The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) has blamed Russia for worsening Europe's natural-gas crisis, saying that high prices and low storage levels largely stem from the behavior of state-owned gas supplier Gazprom.
Europe is grappling with an energy shortage that’s resulted in record gas and power prices over the past few months. Gas storage levels are at only 50 percent capacity, compared with the historical average of 70 percent at this point in the year.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the Paris-based, 30-member IEA, said the current storage deficit is largely due to Gazprom. Russia could send up to one-third more gas through existing pipelines, said Birol, whose organization provides policy recommendations on affordable and sustainable energy.
“We believe there are strong elements of the tightness in European gas markets due to Russia’s behavior," Birol told reporters.
Birol cited other pipeline supporters, such as Norway, Algeria, and Azerbaijan, saying that they had increased their supplies to Europe, while Gazprom reduced its exports by 25 percent in the fourth quarter compared with a year ago "despite high market prices,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Gazprom has met its obligations under long-term contracts and blamed high spot gas prices on European decisions to move toward volatile short-term market pricing. He has also asserted that German gas customers have been reselling Russian gas to Poland and Ukraine rather than addressing their own market’s needs.
Birol stated directly that Russia is using gas to put political pressure on Western Europe.
He noted that low Russian gas flows to Europe “coincide with heightened geopolitical tensions over Ukraine,” adding, “I just wanted to highlight this coincidence.”
Russia has moved nearly 100,000 troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine and made demands that NATO cease any further eastward expansion. It also wants German and European Union regulators to approve its newly built Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bypass other countries and start bringing natural gas directly to Germany.