The remarks made by Alexei Miller, Gazprom?s chief executive, last Tuesday during a meeting with a group of ambassadors from the European Union countries in Russia have shocked not only Europeans.
He reminded them that Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled gas monopoly, was ?actively developing new markets such as North America and China?, which was ?not by accident?. ?Competition for energy resources is increasing,? he said, adding a stunning comment that ?attempts to limit Gazprom?s activity in the European market? would lead to ?no good results?.
Although Mr Miller confirmed Gazprom?s full commitment to fulfil its gas supply obligations under current contracts, it was made clear that future supply policy would be somehow dependent on the actions that European governments take towards Gazprom.
This was the first time responsible Russian officials had threatened European governments with ?bad results? if they do not act in Gazprom?s interests. Such a statement could be a reaction to the Financial Times? disclosure that the British authorities had considered proposals to restrict the ability of foreign companies to acquire equity control of British gas market operators, which would affect the possible acquisition by Gazprom of a stake in Centrica, Britain?s biggest gas supplier.
Although it would be very advantageous for Russian companies to acquire downstream energy assets in Europe ? and it is sad that they may be prohibited from doing so ? it is also important to remember that, about two years ago, the Russian authorities first started this game by indicating that foreign investment in Russian oil and gas fields should be restricted.
In 2005, President Vladimir Putin in his address to parliament openly called for limiting foreign investment in ?strategic sectors? of the economy. It is clear that, unless we renounce the desire to limit foreign investments in Russia?s energy sector, we can expect a symmetrical attitude from other countries. Besides, we need strategic foreign investors in Russia to ensure successful development of our new oil and gas fields.
Not even the Soviet Union during the cold war dared to threaten western Europe with regard to gas supplies. The Soviet Union and Russia were considered reliable suppliers of energy. But January?s gas embargo against Ukraine raised serious concerns about the reliability of Russian supply and last week?s Gazprom comments clearly exceeded certain limits.
Gazprom has the right to protect its interests in Europe ? but through proving reliable, playing by rules and convincing the Russian government to adopt a favourable regime for European investors, similar to the one it wants to find in Europe. Using the advantage of extremely uneven global distribution of oil and gas resources ? nearly three-quarters of which are controlled by a dozen nations producing little more than 5 per cent of global domestic product ? as a means of applying political pressure is totally unacceptable.
These statements come just a couple of months before the summit of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations in St Petersburg, where Russia, the current president, is expected to lead the global discussion on energy security. There has been a lot of criticism of the Russian authorities for ?insecure? behaviour over energy in the recent past and a worse time to start this gas blackmail could not possibly be found.
It is in the strategic and most critical national interests of the Russian Federation immediately to denounce the totally irresponsible comments made by Mr Miller and officially confirm that Russia will never make an attempt to use the gas supply issue as a tool of pressure on European and other nations.
It is also important for Europeans to know that there are people in Russia who firmly believe that Russian actions in the international arena must be responsible and driven not by the idea of dominance, but by the principles of solidarity, fair play, international prosperity and security.
Unfortunately, this does not seem to apply to the people who are currently in power in my country.
The writer is president of the Institute of Energy Policy in Moscow and Russia?s former deputy energy minister