By Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller
PRAGUE – Liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments to Europe late last year showed Russia could not use gas as great leverage over Europe, and the gas shortfall supported efforts to build more LNG capacity on European shores, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said on Wednesday.
Lipavsky told Reuters in an interview that diversion of LNG cargoes to Europe after prices surged late last year amid lower supplies from Russia showed there were alternatives to Russian gas and supported the argument for investing in infrastructure.
“I like to say (Russian President) Vladimir Putin gave Europe a great Christmas gift because he showed that we are not dependent on Russian gas,” Lipavsky said.
“I am not saying we can only be dependent on LNG, but this is a very good example that Russia cannot afford to use gas as some fundamental economic lever, because if Europe builds sufficient mechanisms, terminals, it will diversify its energy security.”
The landlocked Czech Republic consumes around 8.7 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year, most of which comes from Russia through Germany.
Lipavsky, whose ministry has a special envoy for energy security, said the Czech government aimed to gain access to an LNG terminal in some neighbouring country.
But he acknowledged it would take time to put such a plan in practice. The nearest existing or potential terminals are in Poland and Germany.
“Such a project is clearly in the interest of the Czech Republic’s security and therefore the ministry fully supports it,” he said.
He did not say what form the Czech participation should take.
The West has accused Russia of withholding gas to help drive up prices and pressure EU and German regulators to approve the new Nord Stream 2 link that will double Moscow’s piped export capacity via the Baltic Sea.
Russia denies these allegations and Gazprom says it fulfils all long-term contracts.
International Energy Agency (IEA) chief Fatih Birol said last month Russia had contributed to an undersupply of natural gas to Europe, amid a standoff between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.
Russia supplies around 40% of EU gas. The potential impact on that supply if Russia invades Ukraine has prompted an EU drive to increase supplies from other countries.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; editing by Jonathan Oatis)