The European Union’s rejection of Russian energy commodities following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine won’t last forever, Qatar’s Energy Minister said during an energy conference over the weekend.
“The Europeans today are saying there’s no way we’re going back” to buying Russian gas, Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, energy minister and head of state gas company QatarEnergy, said at the Atlantic Council Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi.
“We’re all blessed to have to be able to forget and to forgive. And I think things get mended with time… they learn from that situation and probably have a much bigger diversity [of energy intake].”
Europe has long been Russia’s largest customer of most energy commodities, especially natural gas. EU countries have dramatically cut down their imports of Russian energy supplies, imposing sanctions in response to Moscow’s brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Gas exports from Russian state energy giant Gazprom to Switzerland and the EU fell by 55% in 2022, the company said earlier this month. The cut in imports has dramatically increased energy costs for Europe, sending leaders and oil and gas executives scrambling to develop new sources of energy and shore up alternative supplies.
“But Russian gas is going back, in my view, to Europe,” al-Kaabi said.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has so far taken tens, if not hundreds of thousands of lives, destroyed entire cities, and exiled more than 8 million people as refugees. Russian missiles and drone strikes regularly hit and decimate residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and vital energy infrastructure, leaving millions of Ukrainians without power.
Europe has managed to avert a major crisis this winter, owing to mild weather and substantial stocks of gas amassed over the last year. Energy officials and analysts warn of a more precarious situation in late 2023, when these supplies run out.
“Luckily they [Europe] haven’t had a very high demand for gas due to the warmer weather,” al-Kaabi said. “The issue is what’s going to happen when they want to replenish their storages this coming year, and there isn’t much gas coming into the market until ’25, ’26, ’27 ... So I think it’s going to be a volatile situation for some time.”
Later during the conference, CNBC spoke to the CEO of Italian energy company Eni, Claudio Descalzi, who pushed back on the Qatari minister’s comments.
“I think that the war is still there, and it is not easy to forgive anybody when you kill innocent people, women and children and bomb hospitals,” Descalzi told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble. “And so I think that more than forgive, we have to understand the sense of life for our words. For our modern war, because that is [what is] happening there. So, when we talk about energy security, we talk about financing how you allocate your money, how much in the gas, how much in the renewables, and you think that people are killing close to you or far from you... That is the priority, that is the thing we have to solve.”
“Otherwise,” the CEO added, “there is a big elephant in the room. We hide to ourselves this kind of stuff, and when we hide something [it] is coming back bigger and bigger. If you’re forgiving, it means you are not looking at that, you are not thinking we have to solve this kind of issue.”
Descalzi said that the war in Ukraine and energy security are front of mind for him and his industry. Italy has dramatically reduced its reliance on Russian gas by replacing it with energy sources from alternative producers, such as Algeria. On Sunday, Eni announced a new gas discovery in an offshore field in the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Egypt.
“Honestly, energy security is a big problem… but I think that, in 2023, the priority is Ukraine,” Descalzi said. That’s from my point of view. It’s Russia. It’s the relationship with China.”
“I’m not a politician,” he added, “but I think you cannot manage and talk about money and talk about energy and industry — it’s clear that, if you are not looking at that, a lot of people are going to suffer. But from the other side you talk about freedom, democracy, and people that are dying.”