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Qatar prepares to host gas exporters summit amid Russia-Ukraine tensions

The Gas Exporting Countries Forum will take place on 22 February, with Vladimir Putin's attendance yet to be confirmed
Engineers at work during final stage of Nord Stream 2 pipeline construction in the Baltic Sea, September 2021 (AFP

The annual Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) summit will be hosted by Qatar on 22 February, amid European fears regarding its gas supplies if Russia were to invade Ukraine. 

Key members of the forum include Russia, Iran and Qatar. Though the US and Australia are two of the 18 leading natural gas producers in the world, they are not a part of the group. The GECF includes 11 members and seven observers. The forum will also include two days of ministerial meetings.

It has not yet been confirmed if Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will attend the forum. Amid heightened tension between Russia and America, US President Joe Biden has promised to shut the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe if Moscow launches an invasion of Ukraine. 

The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has already been completed but has not yet funnelled natural gas to Germany.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters: "We're working together right now to protect Europe's energy supply against supply shocks, including those that could result from further Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

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MEE reported last month that Russia, which provides about 40 percent of Europe’s natural gas, may constrict supplies in the event it invades Ukraine, delivering a severe blow to European businesses and households at the peak of winter.

Qatar's role

According to US officials, if pipelines to western Europe are cut, Washington would seek help from Qatar to provide emergency supplies of liquified natural gas.

In January, Biden said that he planned to designate Qatar as a major non-Nato ally, underscoring the critical role the US has come to see the Gulf state playing, as Washington looks for help addressing challenges ranging from Afghanistan to a potential shortfall in Europe’s gas supplies, MEE reported. 

A senior US administration official told the Financial Times that Moscow had been cutting gas supplies to put pressure on European countries.

"We're looking at what can be done in preparation for an event, especially midwinter with very low [European natural gas] supplies in storage," the official said.

"We discussed what can be moved around the market, what can help …  the things we can prepare now for deployment if and when there is an escalated crisis."

The US is not the only one looking for new gas routes; the European Union is doing the same. On 4 February, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson visited Azerbaijan, which is an observer member of the gas forum, in an effort to diversify Europe’s energy sources, AFP reported. 

"It is unacceptable to use energy supply as a weapon or geopolitical lever," the EU-US statement said.

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