Norwegian ambassador: US energy ‘not an easy fix’ for Ukraine crisis

HOUSTON — Norway’s ambassador to the U.S. told FuelFix Monday his country hopes the global community can find a “political” solution to growing tension in eastern Ukraine, and Russia’s aggression underscores the long-term need for more energy options in Europe.

Ambassador Kåre Aas spoke with FuelFix hours after pro-Russian forces seized a police building in eastern Ukraine as onlookers cheered, the latest in a string of violent incidents in Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine.

Ukraine officials have called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers to the eastern part of the country, where insurgents who support Russia have reportedly occupied buildings in nearly 10 cities.

Norway could play a pivotal role in the crisis. It’s one of the world’s largest natural gas exporters, which is important, given concerns about how the conflict could affect Russian supplies of natural gas to Europe. Meanwhile, Norway is also a member of NATO, with its former prime minister poised to become secretary-general of the organization in October. The following interview has been condescend and edited for clarity.

FuelFix: How do you see the political landscape now, and what decisions will be made in the coming days that will affect the situation in Ukraine?

Aas: It’s very difficult to predict. I think what’s most important is … yesterday there was a meeting of the United Nations Security Council. As we have seen, there are differences of opinion within the Security Council. The main message is there needs to be a political solution to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.  At the same time, I’m sure further measures are being discussed among major allies in the European Union. From a Norwegian perspective what’s important to us is to underline the need for a political solution, and we hope that will be the outcome.

FuelFix: What happens if there’s an interruption of natural gas supply through Ukraine?

Aas: The (foreign affairs) minister was in Washington. He was there for four of five days in meetings with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. High on the agenda was the energy issue and the supplies to the European continent. His basic message is that Norway is a reliable source of energy. We are noting ideas that have been presented about energy from the U.S. shale gas to the European continent.

But I think our message was all of this will take a long time, and energy supplies from Norway to Europe is based on private contracts between companies.

We also continue to say if Norway were to increase its gas supply to Europe, that would require new pipelines from Norway to Europe. That requires new infrastructure in the amount of billions of dollars. That won’t happen overnight.

FuelFix: Can you speak about the pressure mounting for more U.S. energy exports to Europe?

Aas: I think there seems to be a thought that the energy situation in Europe could be changed easily by an increase in the supply from the U.S. When the issue is being discussed … most people start to realize it’s not an easy fix. The LNG facilities overnight? That’s not going to happen. And it’s not going to happen overnight that Norway will increase its gas supply by some percentage. The factual situation is basically that the energy supply which we have today will continue more or less as it is.

FuelFix: We’ve seen similar concerns in the past about Russia using its energy supply to exert influence in the region. Should we really expect this crisis to prompt change? Or will we find ourselves in this situation in the future?

Aas: I think what we’ve seen in the past weeks has really increased and strengthened the political need for a discussion about the security of supplies in Europe. (Even with) a political solution to the Ukraine issue … I think still this issue will be discussed. I think there’s a concern now and a political interest to look into this question. It’s not going to go away. I think it will be seriously discussed, both in individual countries but also among countries.

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