Intl desk, Oct 13: Russia has denied using energy as a political weapon, amid surging prices across Europe that have sent gas bills in many households skyrocketing.
President Vladimir Putin said such claims were “complete rubbish… and politically motivated tittle-tattle”.
Russia, one of Europe’s biggest natural gas providers, has been accused of intentionally withholding supplies.
The European Commission has been outlining measures member states can take to combat rising prices.
The wholesale price of gas has increased by 250% since January, triggering a knock-on spike in costs for consumers and businesses.
Energy prices have hit record highs for various reasons, including high demand for natural gas as economies recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘There is no refusal, none’ – Putin
Speaking at a Moscow energy forum on Wednesday, President Putin blamed the current crisis on Europe, saying that after a cold winter Europeans had not pumped sufficient volumes of gas into storage facilities.
He said it was “very important” to “suggest a long-term mechanism to stabilise the energy market”.
Mr Putin stressed that Gazprom, Russia’s gas giant, was supplying gas to Europe at maximum levels under existing contracts, and was ready to provide more if requested.
“We will increase by as much as our partners ask us. There is no refusal, none,” he said.
Critics have accused Russia of squeezing supplies for political motives, partly to put pressure on Germany to speed up the approval of the completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which bypasses Ukraine – a key gas-transporter to the EU.
Opponents say the undersea pipeline in the Baltic is a political project and could make Europe more dependent on Russian energy.
But Mr Putin said it would ease Europe’s gas crisis.
What about the new EU measures?
Earlier on Wednesday, the European Commission’s energy chief, Kadri Simson, said the EU’s executive was responding to calls for urgent action by unveiling an “energy price toolbox”.
The toolbox outlines steps member states can take to reduce energy bills in their countries without breaching EU law. It mostly confirms the measures national governments can already use, but considers what more the Commission can do.
Ms Simson said member states were best placed to ease the burden of rising energy prices as winter approaches.
She urged them to consider emergency income support for vulnerable households, state aid for companies, and targeted tax reductions.
She also advised member states to temporarily pause bill payments where necessary, and put in place safeguards to avoid disconnections from the grid.
“Rising global energy prices are a serious concern for the EU,” Ms Simson said. “As we emerge from the pandemic and begin our economic recovery, it is important to protect vulnerable consumers and support European companies.”
On top of those measures, Ms Simson said the Commission would look into the possible benefits of EU countries jointly buying natural gas.
She said countries could collectively buy gas to form a strategic reserve. But, like the joint scheme to buy Covid vaccine, participation would be voluntary.
The idea was proposed recently by governments that want more EU intervention, such as Spain.
All member states were encouraged to use the EU’s €750bn (£636bn; $867bn) Covid-19 recovery fund to invest in clean energy to meet the bloc’s climate targets.
“We are not facing a surge because of our climate policy,” Ms Simson said. “Fossil fuel prices are spiking. We need to speed up the green transition, not slow it down.”
Why are energy prices rising?
The reasons are numerous and varied. As countries seek to bounce back from the pandemic, demand for energy has shot up, putting a worldwide squeeze on supplies.
Demand for liquefied natural gas has been especially high in China, which is attempting to use cleaner fuels to reduce its carbon footprint.
In Europe, other issues have compounded the problem, creating a perfect storm for energy markets.
For example, a cold winter in Europe last year put pressure on supplies, leaving gas stocks lower than normal.
Low wind speeds have limited the supply of renewable energy to the grid as well.
Source: News Agencies and BBC