Vladimir Putin has denied using gas supply as an economic weapon against Europe, calling the suggestion “absolutely out of the question”.
The Russian president said Wednesday that Russia had already increased supply, and was ready to supply more, as Europe grapples with an energy crisis.
Much of Europe is reliant on Russia for supplies of natural gas, and a host of circumstances have left much of the continent facing rocketing gas and electricity prices.
The gas prices are being driven by an increase in demand as economies emerge from the pandemic lockdowns, a reduction in reserves due to a cold winter a year ago, and reduced options for falling back on dirtier energy sources such as coal as countries work to roll out green alternatives.
Russia is the EU’s leading gas exporter, and critics of the Kremlin have raised the suggestion that Russia has been capitalising on Europe’s energy troubles as it looks to get its gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 to Germany approved.
Former Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius was one of a number of MEPs to call on the EU to launch an investigation into Russia’s state gas company Gazprom, which he said “may be manipulating the European gas market to push gas prices up, currently breaking all-time records”.
Putin, speaking on Wednesday at the plenary session of Russian Energy Week, dismissed the accusations.
"Where do we use weapons? In what conflicts do we take part? As for economic (weapons), that's absolutely out of the question. Even in the most complicated periods of the Cold War, Russia regularly and fully fulfilled its contract obligations and supplied gas to Europe,” he said.
Instead, it is “systematic problems” of Europe’s own doing that have caused the current energy crisis, he claimed.
He told the sessions Russia was ready to up supply, but “we need requests”.
“We increase (gas supplies) as much as they ask us. Today we increased (gas supplies) by 15 percent. If they ask for more, we will increase more. We not only fulfill our contract obligations, we are also ready to supply beyond the contract obligations. But there should be requests, we can't send this gas to nowhere."
On Monday Nicolò Rossetto, a research fellow at the Florence School of Regulation, told Euronews that there were signs "a few months ago" that prices would go up and that this crisis could last throughout the winter.
In response to the crisis, Brussels has confirmed it is willing to explore the creation of an EU-wide strategic reserve for natural gas.
On Wednesday the European Commission confirmed its support for such a scheme, saying a more "integrated European approach" could lower costs and cushion the impact of price volatility.