Ex-UK Envoy to Moscow Rejects Bid to Blame Putin for Gas Price Rises
17:42 GMT 09.10.2021 (Updated: 18:12 GMT 09.10.2021)
Vladimir Putin's assurances on Wednesday that Russian national energy firm Gazprom would ensure deliveries of natural gas to other European states burst the bubble of the effervescent natural gas market.
A former British ambassador to Moscow has dismissed claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin is to blame for the recent surge in natural gas prices.
In a letter to The Times
on Saturday, Sir Tony Brenton — who served as envoy to Russia from 2004 to 2008 — said Britain's problems were "self-inflicted" for failing to negotiate long-term supply contracts.
He also expressed perplexity at the political rhetoric against a new Russian gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany that promises to relieve the European energy crunch that threatens unaffordable hikes in household bills.
"Paradoxically we seem to be demanding more Russian gas while opposing a significant new pipeline, Nord Stream 2, for delivering it", Brenton wrote.
On Friday, The Times
quoted un-named UK government ministers accusing Putin of “choking off” gas supply through other pipelines — including one through Ukraine — in order to pressure Germany into approving Nord Stream 2 to begin operation.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Thursday night of “significant security implications” from the new pipeline — which is paradoxically set to solve a headache for his government by easing the continent-wide supply shortage.
“Although Nord Stream 2 will not directly impact the UK’s energy security, it could have serious implications for Central and Eastern European countries", a Downing Street spokesman said. "Some European countries are nearly wholly dependent on Russian gas, which raises serious concerns about energy security”.
The former diplomat pointed out that reasons for the soaring gas prices included "a post-Covid surge in demand, less wind power, the cold 2020-21 winter and technical outages".
The gas futures bubble burst on Wednesday
after Putin announced that Russian gas giant Gazprom would honour all orders. Prices fell from peaks of around £4 per therm ($1,900 per 1,000 cubic metres) to £2.66 ($1,325 per 1,000 cubic metres) that day, and have since slumped to £2.13 per therm
, or just over $1,000 per 1,000 cubic metres.
One therm is the energy released by burning 100 cubic feet or 2.83 cubic metres of natural gas.
"As Angela Merkel said yesterday, Russia is fulfilling all its gas contracts (as it has done for the 30-plus years since exports began)", Brenton said. "It is of course free to do what it likes with gas not sold under contract (how would we respond if anyone tried to tell us what to do with our North Sea output?)".
9 October 2021, 08:18 GMT
Brenton said that as ambassador in 2006, he had seen then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown pestering Putin about "surging gas prices".
"The response was that our problem was self-inflicted", he said. "Other countries avoided the vicissitudes of the market by entering long-term contracts; Britain did not. As then, so now, but with one key difference. There are now Russian pipelines to China, which is importing all the gas it can get".
Putin is not the only scapegoat for Western problems. The UK's Road Haulage Association and the parliamentary opposition have blamed a shortage of some 100,000 licensed Heavy Goods Vehicle drivers on Britain's exit from the European Union — prompting recent panic-buying of petrol and diesel.
But governing Conservative Party MPs have pointed out
that the industry has refused for almost a decade to invest in training new drivers, amid a Europe-wide
haulage labour shortage caused by low wages
and an ageing workforce.