Russias ambassador to Britain, Andrei Kelin, said that Moscow does not prevent gas supplies from Europe for political reasons, explaining that the delay in increasing supplies is due to the slow transit.
Keelen stressed that Russias commitments to increase supplies will take time to take effect.
Gas prices rose globally as economies began to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 epidemic.
The United States has expressed concern that Russia may use gas as a political weapon as household energy bills rise.
Russia provides only about 5 percent of Britain’s gas consumption, but it supplies the European Union in general with half of its natural gas imports, while Norway and Algeria provide the other half to the EU countries.
Some analysts have suggested that Russia may withhold supplies from Europe to pressure it and speed up approval of the newly built Nord Stream 2 pipeline that runs directly from Russia to Germany.
That pipeline bypasses Ukraine, and has met with objections on geopolitical and environmental grounds, although Russia is keen to start pumping gas.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she had never before seen Russia defaulted on its contractual commitments on gas supplies.
It was also quoted that “Russia can deliver gas only on the basis of contractual obligations, and not on other matters.”
Gazprom, which is mostly owned by the Russian state, supplies gas to Europe under two different types of contracts: long-term contracts, often lasting 10 to 25 years, and there are also “spot” deals or one-time purchases of a fixed amount of gas.
Data from Gazprom’s electronic sales platform indicates that very few “spot” sales are currently taking place, which would result in very little gas being delivered to Europe under this mechanism.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin said allegations that Russia is withholding gas to put pressure on Germany over Nord Stream 2 are “complete nonsense… and politically motivated gossip”.
Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Russias ambassador to Britain, Keelen, echoed Putin’s words.
“Of course, we are not withholding it for political reasons. But the gas problems … lie in the pumping stations, of course,” he said.
Putin has described the claims about the gas as mere “babble”, but Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said that the German approval of Nord Stream 2 “would give a positive signal and calm the current situation.”
Keelen said he sees “no conflict” between those two things.
He added that the pipeline is ready and we “expect the final approval from Germany. Once that happens, of course, new gas supplies will come from this pipeline.”
Asked whether Russia would continue to increase the amount of gas to Europe if Germany did not agree to the pipeline quickly, Keelen said: “We will do this as much as we can.”
“We have increased the supply through the Ukrainian pipeline by 10 percent, but as we understand we cannot do more because the equipment in this pipeline has never been modernized and has never been rebuilt, so it is simply dangerous to use it,” he added.
When confronted about evidence of a 10 percent increase in Russian gas supplies through Ukraine, the Russian ambassador said he was “not a gas specialist.”
He added that supplies would not rise once Putin announced this.
“Gas doesn’t travel at the speed of light, of course,” Keelen said. “It’s very slow.” “So what do you expect, is it just the president’s announcement that prices will go down tomorrow? It’s not possible.”
Asked if Russia was doing everything it could to get Western Europe to get more and cheaper gas, Killen said Nord Stream 2 would help.
But he made it clear that he could not say whether gas supplies would rise from November, but said there had already been a 15 percent increase.
Speaking about whether Nord Stream 2 would give Russia primacy and influence over Western Europe simply by “controlling the gas tap”, Keelen dismissed those suggestions as “nonsense” and jokingly questioned the possibility of putting “that tap” in the basement of his embassy.
“Of course, that’s nonsense,” he said.
When asked whether gas supplies will increase from the beginning of next month, whether approval has been granted for Nord Stream 2 or not, Keelen said: “I simply don’t know. But, as I said, we have increased it by 15 percent at the moment.”
The Russian ambassador also questioned the impact of Russian gas supplies on the rise in prices in Britain, saying: “We are watching what is happening in Britain, but as far as I know, this year it bought only 3 percent of its needs from Gazprom, which represents nothing.”
He added that if there was an opportunity “for a rescue, we will, of course, do what we can to alleviate the difficult conditions that are now emerging through the crisis.”