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

On Friday, Russian energy supplier Gazprom said it would not resume supplying natural gas to Germany through the central Nord Stream 1 pipeline, blaming a malfunctioning turbine.

Hannibal Hanschke | Reuters

The EU̵[ads1]7;s rejection of Russian energy goods after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine will not last forever, Qatar’s energy minister said during an energy conference at the weekend.

“The Europeans today say it is not possible for us to go 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 are all blessed to be able to forget and forgive. And I think things work out with time… they learn from that situation and probably have a lot more diversity [of energy intake].”

Europe has long been Russia’s largest customer for most energy products, especially natural gas. EU countries have dramatically cut imports of Russian energy supplies and imposed sanctions in response to Moscow’s brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Gas exports from Russian state energy giant Gazprom to Switzerland and the European Union 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 energy sources and find alternative supplies.

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

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

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

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Europe has managed to avert a major crisis this winter, thanks to mild weather and significant gas reserves 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 because of the warmer weather,” al-Kaabi said. “The question is what’s going to happen when they want to fill up the storage in the coming year and not a lot of gas is coming into market until ’25, ’26, ’27 … So I think it’s going to be a volatile situation for a while.”

Later in 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 somebody when you’re killing innocent people, women and children and bombing hospitals,” Descalzi told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble. “And so I think that more than forgiving, we must understand the sense of life for our words. For our modern war, because it is [what is] happens there. So, when we talk about energy security, we’re talking about financing how you allocate your money, how much in gas, how much in renewable energy, and you think that people are killing near you or far away from you… That is, the priority, that’s what we have to solve.”

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

“Otherwise,” added the CEO, “it’s a big elephant in the room. We hide these kinds of things 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 have to solve these kinds of problems.”

Descalzi said the war in Ukraine and energy security are in focus for him and his industry. Italy has dramatically 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 problem … but I think that in 2023 the priority is Ukraine,” Descalzi said. That is from my point of view. It is 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 – it’s clear that if you don’t look at it, a lot of people will suffer But from the other since you talk about freedom, democracy and people dying.”

"This year is going to be about the war" in Ukraine, says presidential advisor Amos Hochstein

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