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Russian gas will eventually return to Europe as nations ‘forgive and forget’, says Qatari energy minister

On Friday, Russian energy supplier Gazprom said it would not resume its natural gas supply to Germany through the key Nord Stream 1 pipeline, blaming a faulty turbine.

Hannibal Hanschke | Reuters

The European Union’s rejection of Russian energy products after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine will not last forever, the Qatari energy minister told an energy conference this weekend.

“The Europeans are saying today that there is no way we will go back” to buying Russian gas, said Saad Sherida al-Kaabi, energy minister and head of the state gas company. QatarEnergy, during the Atlantic Council Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi.

“We’re all blessed to be able to forget and forgive. And I think things mend over time…they learn from that and probably have a lot more diversity [of energy intake].”

Europe has long been Russia’s biggest customer for most energy products, especially natural gas. EU countries have drastically reduced their imports of Russian energy supplies, imposing sanctions in response to Moscow’s brutal and large-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russian energy giant Gazprom’s gas exports to Switzerland and the EU fell 55% in 2022, the company said earlier this month. Reduced imports have dramatically increased energy costs for Europe, forcing oil and gas executives and managers to scramble to develop new energy sources and bolster alternative supplies.

“But Russian gas is going back, in my opinion, to Europe,” al-Kaabi said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has so far claimed the lives of tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, destroyed entire cities and exiled more than 8 million people as refugees. Russian missile and drone strikes regularly strike and decimate residential buildings, schools, hospitals and vital energy infrastructure, leaving millions of Ukrainians without electricity.

A destroyed residential building after a Russian missile attack on January 15, 2023 in Dnipro, Ukraine.

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Europe managed to avoid a major crisis this winter, thanks to good weather and large gas stocks accumulated over the past year. Energy officials and analysts warn of a more precarious situation in late 2023, when those supplies run out.

“Fortunately they [Europe] haven’t had a very high demand for gas due to the warmer weather,” al-Kaabi said. “The question is what’s going to happen when they want to replenish their inventory this coming year, and there’s not a lot of gas coming into the market until ’25, ’26, ’27… So I think the situation is going to be volatile for a while.”

Later during the conference, CNBC spoke with the CEO of Italian energy company Eni, Claudio Descalzi, who pushed back on the Qatari minister’s comments.

“I think the war is still there, and it’s not easy to forgive anyone when you’re killing innocent people, women and children and bombing hospitals,” Descalzi told Hadley Gamble from CNBC. “And so I think more than forgiving, we need to understand the meaning of life for our words. For our modern warfare, because that’s [what is] what’s going on there. So when we talk about energy security, we talk about funding, how do you allocate your money, how much gas, how much renewable energy, and do you think people are killing near you or far from you… It’s the priority is the thing we have to solve.”

In 2023, the priority is Ukraine, says Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Eni

“Otherwise,” the CEO added, “there’s a big elephant in the room. We hide this stuff from ourselves, and when we hide something [it] comes back bigger and bigger. If you forgive, it means you don’t look at it, you don’t think we need to solve this kind of problem.”

Descalzi said the war in Ukraine and energy security were a priority for him and his industry. Italy has significantly reduced its dependence 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 issue…but I think in 2023 the priority is Ukraine,” Descalzi said. It’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 can’t manage and talk about money and talk about energy and industry – clearly, if you don’t look not that, a lot of people are going to suffer. But on the other side, you talk about freedom, democracy and people dying.

"This year will be devoted to war" in Ukraine, says presidential adviser Amos Hochstein

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