Qatar will not be able to replace Europe's energy needs unilaterally in case of a shortage due to the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, the minister of state for energy said yesterday.
As one of the world's largest producers of liquefied gas (LNG), the Gulf state has become an essential ally of the West. Expectations are that Doha will step in if there are disruptions to gas supplies to Europe from Russia in the event of an escalation of tension with Moscow.
Qatar is also seen as a long-term solution to Europe's reliance on Russian gas. President Vladimir Putin has been accused of weaponising this, a position which the West considers to be unsustainable. It's a dilemma which Washington believes can be eased by putting Doha at the centre of Europe's energy security.
A major complication in the short term is that most of Qatar's gas is shipped to Asia and China where the Gulf state's customers agree to fixed, long-term contracts. This means that there would need to be an agreement with Asian countries to reroute existing supplies unless Qatar is able to boost its production significantly.
Last month, US officials acknowledged such complications during talks with Qatar. A senior official in the Biden administration acknowledged that contracts between LNG exporters and Asian buyers could complicate efforts to divert supplies to Europe. "There's no magic wand," the official pointed out. "It's all really hard, really complicated. Looking to do it within the constructs of how markets work, how commercial terms work, how cargoes work."
Talking about Qatar's inability to replace Europe's energy needs unilaterally, Minister of State Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, is reported as saying, "The volume of gas needed by the EU cannot be replaced by anyone unilaterally, without disturbing supplies to other regions around the world."
Al-Kaabi explained that Europe's energy security requires a collective effort from many parties. He expressed Qatar's wish that "tensions in Europe can be resolved diplomatically, so that all suppliers can work together to ensure energy security for the short- and long-terms."
The US is concerned that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine and has in recent weeks asked Qatar and other major gas producers to study if they can supply extra gas to Europe if Russian flows are disrupted.
"Keeping our contractual word is sacrosanct in Qatar," Al Kaabi insisted. The implication was that it will not be possible to divert to Europe gas shipments which are already contracted for delivery to other countries, without their consent.