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Ukraine’s Naftogaz CEO accuses Russia of using gas as a geopolitical weapon as energy crisis deepens

  • September 24, 2021

LONDON — The chief executive of Ukrainian state energy giant Naftogaz has accused Russia’s Gazprom of using natural gas as a geopolitical weapon, calling on the U.S. and Germany to take action against Moscow while it awaits regulatory approval for a controversial pipeline project.

It comes shortly after the International Energy Agency, the world’s energy watchdog, intervened to call on Russia to send more gas to Europe to alleviate the region’s deepening supply crunch.

The IEA’s statement on Tuesday was seen as a rare rebuke of the Kremlin and lent further support to the view that Moscow has played a role in Europe’s energy crisis — alongside market drivers such as extremely strong commodity prices and low wind output.

European households face a steep jump in energy bills, with nerves growing ahead of winter as power and gas prices soar.

Speaking to CNBC via video call, Naftogaz CEO Yuriy Vitrenko said Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom was manipulating the region’s energy crisis to try to strengthen the case for starting flows via Nord Stream 2.

Gazprom did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

The pipeline is designed to deliver Russian gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine and Poland.

Critics argue the pipeline is not compatible with European climate goals, deepens the region’s dependence on Russian energy exports and will most likely strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin’s economic and political influence over the region.

The construction of Nord Stream 2 was completed earlier this month. Germany’s energy regulator has since said it now has four months to complete certification of the project after receiving all necessary paperwork for an operating license.

Naftogaz’s Vitrenko said Gazprom was deliberately withholding gas supplies to Europe, blocking access to the gas transmission system of Ukraine from other Russian companies and blocking exports from Central Asia that could go to Ukraine via Russia.

“This is a very clear sign that they are using gas as a geopolitical weapon at the moment,” Vitrenko said.

Kyiv’s relations with Russia plummeted in 2014 after Moscow annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and supported pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. Ukraine says the seven-year conflict has killed more than 14,000 people.

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