26 Mar 2014

Obama moves to wean Europe off Russian oil and gas

Barack Obama pitches the US as a source of energy that would weaken the European Union’s dependence on Russia for oil and gas “in the light of what’s happened”.

In response to the Russian annexation of Crimea, many European leaders have been torn between the desire to impose sanctions whilst also being heavily dependent on Russian energy exports.

On Wednesday, President Obama met with EU leaders to discuss exporting US natural gas to Europe, which could be an alternative to Russian exports.

We must commit perennially to peace, which binds us across oceans. Barack Obama

The US president also discussed the proposed free-trade agreement between the US and the EU, dubbed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which he said would make it easier for such natural gas exports.

‘Binds us across oceans’

Mr Obama said (see video, below): “I think that Europe, collectively, is going to need to examine in the light of what’s happened their energy policies to find other additional ways that they can diversify and accelerate energy independence.

“The United States as a source of energy is one possibility. We have been blessed by some incredible resources, but we are also making choices and taking on some of the difficulties and challenges of energy development. And Europe is going to have to go through some of those same conversations as well.”

The European countries most reliant on Russia for natural gas, according to US Energy Infomation Administration figures for 2012, are Germany (which receives 24 per cent of Russian natural gas exports), Turkey (19 per cent), Italy (11 per cent), France (6 per cent) and the UK (6 per cent).

The president’s visit was seen by some as a bridge-building scandal, following revelations about NSA spying in various European countries, including the targeting of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.

But, during a visit to Flanders Fields American Cemetery in Belgium, President Obama said Europe and US remain bound together by a commitment to peace.

“This hallowed ground reminds us that we must never, ever take our progress for granted. We must commit perennially to peace, which binds us across oceans,” he said.

NATO condemnation

Wednesday was a day in which various world powers rallied in condemnation of Russia’s actions in the Crimean peninsula, which it has officially annexed.

It follows Russia being suspended from the G8 earlier this week.

The situation of minorities in Crimea, in particular the Crimean Tatars, is extremely vulnerable. Paula Schriefer

More than 40 mainly Western countries, led by the US, denounced Russia’s actions and voiced concern for the fate of minority Tatars as well as missing activists and journalists in Crimea.

In a joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council, they urged Russia to allow international monitors to deploy across Ukraine, “including Crimea”.

Russia has agreed with the 56 other members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send a six-month monitoring mission to Ukraine, but said it had no mandate in Crimea.

Paula Schriefer, US deputy assistant secretary of state, read a two-page statement to the Geneva forum from 42 countries, saying: “We call on Russia and all concerned to ensure full and unimpeded access and protection for the teams to all of Ukraine, including Crimea …”

“We are deeply concerned about credible reports of kidnappings of journalists and activists, the blocking of independent media and the barring of independent international observers,” she said.

“Furthermore, the situation of minorities in Crimea, in particular the Crimean Tatars, is extremely vulnerable since the Russian military incursion.”

Russia’s delegation was expected to take the floor to respond at the council, where it is one of 47 member states.