A senior energy adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden urged Russia to supply more natural gas to Europe now rather than wait for approval of a newly completed pipeline, saying Monday that “they should do it quickly” to ward off the risk of severe gas shortages this winter.
Amos Hochstein, Biden's senior adviser for global energy security, said the natural gas crunch in Europe had multiple causes, including strong demand for gas in China. But he said Russia had enough gas to increase sales now rather than wait for European Union and German authorities to give final regulatory approval to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which brings gas across the Baltic Sea directly to Europe and bypasses Poland and Ukraine.
“They can increase upstream production, they should do it, they should do it quickly, and they should supply it through the existing pipelines,” Hochstein told journalists in an online briefing from Washington. “If Russia has the gas to supply Nord Stream 2, as they suggest, that means they have the gas to supply it through the Ukrainian GTS (gas transit system) or other pipelines as well, so they should do that.”
Natural gas prices in Europe — which imports 90% of its supply, largely from Russia — are five times higher than at the start of the year. Reserves depleted last winter were not sufficiently refilled during the warm months to calm concerns about shortages during the winter heating season.
Russia's state-controlled Gazprom has continued to supply gas to European customers under its long-term contracts but has not increased supply on the spot market even as prices have skyrocketed.
Some analysts and political figures have accused Russia of holding back gas supplies to pressure European authorities into speeding up final approval of the new pipeline, which could take months. Analysts do not expect Nord Stream 2 to help relieve Europe's gas crunch until sometime next year.
Hochstein repeated a warning from September that a lack of gas and heat could cost lives in the most vulnerable communities if the coming winter is colder than usual. He said the “crisis that we are facing is not just about money and higher prices, it was something that literally endangered lives.”
The U.S. opposed the pipeline, saying it increased Europe's energy dependence on Russia, and it is opposed by both Poland and Ukraine over energy security concerns. Ukraine could lose transit fees if gas that otherwise would have gone through Ukraine's pipeline system passes through Nord Stream 2 instead.
The Biden administration dropped efforts to block it with sanctions once it was almost complete, instead striking a deal with Germany that they would take action against Russia if it used gas as a weapon against Ukraine and that Germany would help fund Ukraine's transition to green energy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the pipeline is “purely commercial."