Europe cannot live without Russian gas. Can this small country in the Middle East help?

Qatar, one of the world’s leading suppliers of liquefied natural gas (LNG), has been thrust into the spotlight as European states scramble to find alternatives to the Russian gas that has powered their economies for decades, while Moscow continues to his brutal war in the Ukraine.

But Kaabi warned that the transition will be difficult. Replacing Russia’s gas supply to Europe “is not possible in practice” yet, he said. Qatar’s current gas capacity will not meet European demand, he said, but it could in the future.

US President Joe Biden and his counterpart at the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Friday a joint task force aimed at finding alternative LNG supplies and reducing overall demand for natural gas in the future.

“Europe has been a destination for us and is an important market for us,” said the Qatari minister, who is also the chairman and CEO of QatarEnergy. “And we will be supplying Europe.”

Qatar has invested $28 billion in expanding its gargantuan North Field and expects gas capacity to increase by more than 60% in four years, he said. After that, around half of its capacity is expected to go to Europe. “Our plan is that we want to be 50% east of Suez, 50% west of Suez,” she said, referring to the Egyptian waterway. Some 80% of Qatar’s gas currently goes to Asian buyers, many of whom have signed long-term contracts that do not allow supplies to be diverted to other buyers.

Here’s what you need to know about the role Qatar can play in Europe’s efforts to stop using Russian gas:

What can Qatar do to help reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas now?

Russia has the world’s largest natural gas reserves, almost double those of Qatar, and its gas supplies account for 40% of the European Union’s use. Analysts said it is virtually impossible to replace Russian gas at the moment.

“There is basically no spare LNG on the world market,” said Robin Mills, chief executive of Dubai-based energy consultancy Qamar Energy. Qatar’s own divertable LNG is limited “and bidding on that will push prices up.”

The only way Qatar can replace Russian gas imports to Europe is by diverting shipments from other customers who have signed long-term contracts, such as those in Asia, something it has been unwilling to do. By doing so, you may incur compensation claims from those buyers.

Contractual divertable gas gives the seller the flexibility to redirect shipments to the higher value market in response to changing market conditions.

As Europe tries to reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons, emerging Asian economies such as China and India may be more attractive destinations for Qatari gas, said Yousef Alshammari, a senior fellow at Imperial College London.

The United States could also emerge as a gas supplier to Europe.

The White House said Friday that the United States will work to supply Europe with at least 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas by 2022 in partnership with other nations.

“It’s a great opportunity for the United States,” Kaabi said. “I think definitely the United States is going to be, you know, one of the biggest suppliers, if not the biggest supplier. [to Europe] at some point,” he said.

Would substituting Russian gas for Qatari energy face logistical problems?

The supply of gas from Russia to Europe is carried out through gas pipelines. There are no gas pipelines from Qatar to Europe, so the Gulf nation’s energy would have to be shipped to Europe in liquefied form.

“Liquefaction of natural gas consumes a lot of energy, emits carbon and offsets the climate benefits” of using natural gas, Alshammari said. “It will be difficult for European politicians as they set ambitious climate agendas and net zero goals.”

European nations will also need infrastructure to support those shipments, which could take time to build, said Karen Young, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. Switching to Qatari gas may be easier for countries that already have that infrastructure, such as the UK and Spain, she said.

“The problem is that Europe is jumping into an LNG market that cannot accommodate its immediate need for huge volumes,” said Nikos Tsafos of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. “Of course, Qatar could send more gas to Europe, but hasn’t done so yet despite incredibly high prices in Europe, suggesting its flows to Asia could be more complicated than we think.”

What would this mean for Qatar-Russia relations?

Qatar is willing to present its gas deals as commercial transactions, and Al Kaabi said he is not in favor of mixing politics with energy.

“This is a commercial agreement between commercial entities,” Al Kaabi told Becky Anderson, referring to the possible association with German energy companies to supply gas. “From a business perspective, we don’t pick sides, we act like a business and do our business,” she said.

Qatar would like to present it as a market-based move, “not a strategic alignment against Russia,” Mills said.

Other highlights from the Middle East

Blinken to meet Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi on Middle East tour

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed in Morocco on a tour of the Middle East starting on Saturday. The two will discuss a variety of topics, including Iran, Yemen, Syria, global energy markets and Ethiopia.

  • Background: Blinken’s meeting will be part of a tour of the region that includes stops in Israel, Ramallah, Morocco and Algeria. The trip is expected to be heavily dominated by discussion of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Why it matters: Relations between the US and the United Arab Emirates have been strained of late amid the reluctance of President Biden’s oil-producing allies in the Middle East to increase crude production to help reduce oil prices. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also called for more US assistance to help prevent attacks by Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Iran’s foreign minister says Riyadh sends mixed messages on normalization

Iran has received conflicting statements from Saudi Arabia on renewing bilateral relations, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said during a press conference in Beirut on Thursday.

  • Background: Iraq, which is negotiating talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Baghdad, had said the fifth round of talks would start on March 16. But Iran unilaterally called off the talks after Saudi Arabia earlier this month executed 81 men, some of whom were Shiites. Iran is majority Shia.
  • Why it matters: Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are locked in proxy conflicts across the Middle East, began direct talks last year to try to contain tensions, but the talks have made little progress. Any progress could significantly help reduce tensions in the region.

Dubai ruler’s ex-wife gets custody of their children

A senior British judge has given Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, the ex-wife of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, sole responsibility for their children. The judge concluded that the sheikh inflicted “exorbitant” domestic abuse on his ex-wife. A statement issued on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed said that he loved his children and would always take care of them. “He maintains his denial of the allegations made in this contentious process,” he said.

  • Background: The feud between the royals began shortly after Haya fled to Britain in April 2019 after discovering she was having an affair with a bodyguard. In December, Sheikh Mohammed was ordered to pay Princess Haya more than $728 million in one of the largest divorce settlements ever handed down by a UK court.
  • Why it matters: The ruling caps the end of a costly three-year custody battle at London’s High Court between Sheikh Mohammed and his ex-wife. The rulings appear not to have affected relations between Britain, Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

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By Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears before the Jerusalem District Court on March 23.  Netanyahu, who served as prime minister for 12 consecutive years but lost power in June, has pleaded not guilty to corruption charges including bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
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