Zelensky urges energy-rich countries to call time on Putin’s ‘blackmail’

Volodymyr Zelensky has called on energy producing countries to step up their output in order to prevent Russia from using its oil and gas to “blackmail” European nations.

His appeal came a day after EU leaders pledged to buy natural gas jointly and Germany unveiled targets to rapidly cut its dependence on Russian energy.

Speaking to a conference attended by many Gulf officials in Doha, Qatar, by video link, the Ukrainian president called on “responsible states, in particular Qatar” as “reliable and reputable suppliers of energy resources that can contribute to stabilise the situation in Europe”.

“They can do much more to restore justice. Europe’s future depends on your efforts,” he said. “I urge you to increase energy production so that Russia understands that no state can use energy as a weapon and to blackmail the world.”

Speaking at the same conference Saad al-Kaabi, Qatar’s energy minister and chief executive of QatarEnergy, said: “We are clear about trying to support the Europeans and the Americans. We have said the volumes that are divertible away from Europe, even if we can get a higher price for it, we will not divert them.”

However he has previously said that no other country could replace the total volume produced by Russia. Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), estimates that it could only divert about 10-15 per cent of its volumes to Europe. The Gulf nation sells most of its LNG to Asian clients who are locked into long-term fixed contracts.

The US said on Friday that it would aim to deliver at least 15bn cubic metres (bcm) of additional LNG to the EU this year along with other producers, as western allies step up efforts to reshape global energy markets and punish Moscow.

In Warsaw on Saturday US president Joe Biden said Nato unity was crucial to keeping up pressure on Russia and reassured Poland that Nato would defend it from any Russian aggression. US officials have suggested Poland could be vulnerable to this, though there is no indication of a specific attack.

Biden told Andrzej Duda, the Polish president, that the alliance’s mutual defence clause was “a sacred commitment, not a throwaway . . . that relates to every member of Nato . . . for your freedom and ours”.

The alliance needed to remain “absolutely, completely, thoroughly united” with “no separation in points of view”, he said. “Everything we do we do in unison and everyone comes along.”

Biden met top Ukrainian officials to discuss further support for their defences, according to the White House. He also visited a stadium hosting refugees from Ukraine, after which he called Vladimir Putin a “butcher” and said some the children asked him to say a prayer for their fathers and grandfathers who stayed to fight.

The US president told the Polish head of state that Nato’s mutual defence clause was a sacred commitment. © Marcin Obara/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Kremlin said the remarks made any improvement in the relationship between the two countries less likely.

“Leaders should keep a sober head,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the state-run Tass news agency. “Each time, these personal insults narrow the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations [to improve] under the current [US] administration.”

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the Doha conference that the international community must find “a face-saving way out, or an honourable exit for both sides [that] they can sell publicly”.

Turkey has been mediating in peace talks between the two sides, along with Israel. Cavusoglu said there was a back channel between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents, but did not give any details.

Washington has been pressuring Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to increase crude production to help dampen oil prices. But Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which co-ordinate output levels through Opec+, which includes Russia, have so far resisted.

Saudi officials argue that the rise in oil prices is not caused by a lack of supply and increasing output would have little impact on prices. They also caution that there is a shortage of production capacity globally.

Zelensky said on Saturday that it was “a matter of time” before European countries refused to buy Russian oil and gas, adding that sanctions against Russia are “aimed at only one thing — to start Russia seeking peace, so that it does not pose a common threat”.

The Ukrainian army said that Russia “continues to regroup and build up forces to resume offensive operations”.

Rockets struck an oil storage facility on the outskirts of Lviv, about 3km from the city centre, setting it on fire. Liviv lies in western Ukraine.

raine, close to the Polish border. Lviv deputy mayor Serhy Kiral said there were at least three strikes and five people were injured.

Russia has deployed “almost all” its units stationed in Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, and in some districts of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk “to suppress resistance from [local] residents”, Ukrainian forces said. Kharkiv officials said the city was shelled overnight.

Moscow said on Friday it was refocusing its month-long military offensive on the country’s eastern Donbas region. But Ukrainian authorities and western officials reacted cautiously to the claim of a suggestion of military strategy.

A UK intelligence update said Russia continued to pound Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol, adding that its forces were “proving reluctant” to engage in large urban infantry operations.

“It is likely that Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties,” the UK ministry of defence said.

Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova

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