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Qatar, an alternative gas supplier, but only in the medium term

Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi (in white), Minister of State for Energy Affairs and Chairman and CEO of QatarEnergy with, at his side, Patrick Pouyanné, of TotalEnergie, and Anders Opedal, Chairman and CEO of Equinor.  At the Doha Forum, March 26, 2022.

The Italian foreign minister on March 5, the German economy minister on March 20, the head of French diplomacy on March 28: since the start of the war in Ukraine at the end of February, the high European officials parade in Doha. The prospect of a halt in purchases of Russian gas by European states has propelled the emirate, the third largest exporter of blue gold on the planet, to the heart of major geopolitical maneuvers aimed at finding an alternative to these imports.

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The European Commission seeks to reduce by two thirds the dependence of the Twenty-Seven on Russian gas and to free itself completely from it “well before 2030”thanks to reserve filling obligations, energy savings, group purchases of gas and diversification of suppliers.

When, on March 25, US President Joe Biden unveiled a plan to supply Europe with an additional 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2022, “in cooperation with international partners”, all eyes on the Old Continent spontaneously turned to the city-state of the Arabian Peninsula. A faithful ally of Washington and the second largest gas carrier by LNG tanker in the world behind Australia, Qatar seems ideally placed, on paper, to meet the needs of Europeans.

Low profile

In reality, things are much more complicated. Saturday March 26, at the podium of the Doha Forum, a high-level conference organized in the principality, the Qatari Minister of Energy, Saad Al-Kaabi, admitted that he had no miracle cure for the new energy anxieties. of the EU. “Right now, I don’t think we can help, did he declare. No one can replace Russian gas overnight. It takes time. »

Nearly 90% of Qatar’s LNG production is exported under long-term contracts that are almost impossible to terminate, mainly to Asia. Eight countries on this continent (South Korea, China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Thailand) absorb 77% of Qatari liquefied gas exports. “It is not possible for us to divert cargo to Europe, assures Saad Al-Kaabi. In twenty-six years of activity, we have never defaulted on a single contract. Simply failing to honor one will tarnish your reputation. »

Read also: War in Ukraine: Berlin facing the trap of Russian gas

The very opulent emirate, at the head of the third largest gas reserves in the world, can it really do nothing? In their communication on this highly sensitive subject, the Qatari authorities deliberately keep a low profile, for fear of attacking Moscow. Doha, which officially wants to be neutral in the conflict in Ukraine but whose pro-kyiv preferences make no mystery – President Zelensky’s intervention by video at the opening of the Doha Forum testified to this – needs not to appear as the ally of European sanctions. The peninsula’s chief diplomat, Mohammed Ben Abderrahmane Al Thani, visited the Russian capital in mid-March, where he met his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

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