* Kremlin leader says Russia will ‘meet partners halfway’
* Moscow ready to discuss further steps
* Spokesman says supply is matter for negotiation with Gazprom (Adds further Putin quotes, Nord Stream, context)
MOSCOW, Oct 13 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia was ready to provide more gas to Europe if requested, emphatically rejecting the suggestion that Moscow was squeezing supplies for political motives.
“If they ask us to increase further, we are ready to increase further. We will increase by as much as our partners ask us. There is no refusal, none,” Putin told an energy conference in Moscow.
European gas prices have hit record levels this month, but the Kremlin has repeatedly denied that Russia is withholding supplies in order to exert pressure for quick regulatory approval of the new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany.
Putin described as “complete nonsense” the accusation that Moscow was using energy as a political weapon.
“Russia’s reserves are unlimited and we are increasing supplies to Europe even in the current conditions, which are difficult for us,” he said.
“We always meet our partners halfway and are ready to discuss additional actions,” he said, without elaborating.
His comments held out the possibility that Moscow might be willing to go further to help ease the price squeeze in Europe, which has pushed household bills higher and hit industries such as steelmakers and fertiliser plants.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier that Russian gas giant Gazprom was supplying gas to Europe at maximum levels under existing contracts and any increase would need to be negotiated with the company.
“Nothing can be delivered beyond the contracts,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “How? For free? It is a matter of negotiating with Gazprom.”
Separately, deputy energy minister Pavel Sorokin said Russia had not changed its timetable for gas injection into storage facilities until Nov. 1, implying it was in no hurry to supply additional gas to Europe on the spot market.
Putin said Nord Stream 2 would significantly assuage the gas crisis in Europe, but said it still faced “red tape”.
The 1,230 km (765-mile) pipeline was completed last month, doubling Russia’s gas-exporting capacity via the Baltic Sea, but still needs to clear regulatory hurdles in Germany that could take months to complete.
Putin again criticised the structure of the European gas market and its reliance on volatile spot prices instead of longer-term contracts.
“The situation on the European gas market does not look balanced and predictable,” he said.
This year, even after a cold winter, he said many countries failed to replenish storage facilities, “relying on spot gas supplies, on the so-called invisible hand of the market. And thus, in conditions of high demand, they pushed prices upward even more.”
Natural gas prices, particularly in Europe, have rocketed this year as economies have rebounded strongly from the deep recession triggered by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
The crisis has been exacerbated by a sharp drawdown in storage levels, the approach of winter and strong demand from Asia, but traders have said Russia’s decision not to book additional supply capacity on gas pipelines to Europe has made things worse. (Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Olesya Astakhova, Katya Golubkova, Vladimir Soldatkin, Oksana Kobzeva and Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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