US seeks to weaken Russia's energy hold on Europe, Hochstein says

"Russia has one [economic] leverage: the energy sector. That is what it has been holding as a sword over the heads of several countries in Europe," said US special energy envoy Amos Hochstein.

 The logo of Gazprom company is seen on the facade of a business centre in Saint Petersburg, Russia March 31, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/REUTERS PHOTOGRAPHER)
The logo of Gazprom company is seen on the facade of a business centre in Saint Petersburg, Russia March 31, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/REUTERS PHOTOGRAPHER)

The Biden administration seeks to weaken Moscow's energy hold on Europe as part of the steps it has taken against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, US special energy envoy Amos Hochstein said on Tuesday.

"Russia has one [economic] leverage: the energy sector. That is what it has been holding as a sword over the heads of several countries in Europe," Hochstein said. 

"That is what we are going to try to weaken and to diversify away from," he said, adding that this would be "part of a broader strategy that the US and Europe share in ensuring a joint and consistent battle plan against Russia's efforts."

Hochstein spoke as Europe seeks to halt its dependence on Russian natural gas, which makes up 40% of its supply chain. Israel is one of the countries that wants to provide the region with an alternative, but might not be a viable option for Europe quickly enough.

There are two levels to thwarting Russian President Vladimir Putin's ambitions to take over Ukraine, Hochstein said: one is the military campaign and the other is an economic one. 

 Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with US Special Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 20, 2021.  (credit: DALATI NOHRA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with US Special Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 20, 2021. (credit: DALATI NOHRA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

The US is committed to providing the Ukrainian military "with what it needs to defend itself against this [Russian] assault," he said.

In addition, US President Joe Biden is committed to a global sanctions campaign against Russia, one component of which is the energy sector, Hochstein explained.

Unity against Russia "has been the single most important element in the world standing up to the atrocities that Putin is committing there, which includes "wave after wave of sanctions" that are serious, long-term and lasting.

He did not mention Israeli efforts to double its natural gas production to about 40 billion cubic meters from about 20 bcm as it expands current projects and brings new fields online.

Israel currently supplies its own market and through a local network of pipelines exports to neighbors Egypt and Jordan, while much of the additional natural gas would be earmarked for Europe. 

Reuters contributed to this report.