Nato fears Russian plans for ‘gas Opec’
By Daniel Dombey in Brussels, Neil Buckley in Moscow and Carola Hoyos in London
Published: November 13 2006 22:13 | Last updated: November 13 2006 23:45
Nato advisers have warned the military alliance that it needs to guard against any attempt by Russia to set up an “Opec for gas” that would strengthen Moscow’s leverage over Europe.
A confidential study by Nato economics experts, sent to the ambassadors of its 26 member states last week, warned that Russia may be seeking to build a gas cartel including Algeria, Qatar, Libya, the countries of Central Asia and perhaps Iran.
The study, by Nato’s economics committee, said Russia was seeking to use energy policy to pursue political ends, particularly in dealings with neighbours such as Georgia and Ukraine.
On Monday night, Dmitry Peskov, deputy Kremlin spokesman, insisted there was “no substance at all” to the suggestion that Russia was seeking a gas cartel. “I think the authors of such an idea simply fail to understand our thesis about energy security,” he said.
“Our main thesis is interdependence of producers and consumers. Only a madman could think that Russia would start to blackmail Europe using gas, because we depend to the same extent on European customers.”
Although there is disagreement over whether Russia could create any such cartel, the report highlights the deepening tensions between Western Europe and Moscow over energy security.
Energy company executives say the biggest threat to gas prices comes from Russia’s own investment shortfalls and possible moves by Moscow to convince other producers, such as Algeria, to limit investment.
Russia supplies 24 per cent of Europe’s natural gas, with Norway selling 13 per cent and Algeria, a major exporter to Spain and Italy, supplying 10 per cent.
Last week, the International Energy Agency warned of “the possibility of major gas-exporting countries co-ordinating their investment and production plans in order to avoid surplus capacity and to keep gas prices up.”
But yesterday, EU foreign ministers failed to agree a line on Russian energy, with Poland continuing to seek a tougher stance in future talks with Moscow.
Last month, before an EU summit with Russia, Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, highlighted a Russian deal with Algeria, which he said stopped Algeria selling majority stakes in gas projects to foreign investors.
“We are witnessing some form of mutual agreement as Russia and Algeria restrain investment,” said one industry analyst.
“Moscow has tightened the grip using Gazprom and Algiers has just changed its hydrocarbons law giving [Algeria’s] Sonatrach 51 per cent of every project instead of 30 per cent.”
Big gas exporters such as Norway, Qatar and Nigeria appear reluctant to join any cartel. Gas is also traded very differently to oil, with long-term contracts – often linked to oil prices – still the norm. Analysts say Gazprom relies heavily on Europe, since domestic Russian prices are capped and there is no other market to enter at present.