Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged Qatar, a world leader in the export of natural gas, to boost its output to counter what he called the Russian “threat” to use energy as a weapon.
In a surprise appearance at Doha Forum international conference on Saturday, the Ukrainian president called on energy-producing countries to step in so that Moscow cannot use its oil and gas wealth to “blackmail” other nations.
“They can do much to restore justice. The future of Europe depends on your effort,” Zelenskyy said in the first such address to a Gulf nation since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
“I ask you to increase the output of energy to ensure that everyone in Russia understands that no country can use energy as a weapon and blackmail the world,” he told in translated comments to the audience.
Earlier, Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told the Doha Forum his country stands in solidarity with the people affected by what he called the “unjust war” in Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said gas-rich countries such as Qatar could make a contribution to the stabilisation of Europe, which imports more than one-third of its energy supplies from Russia.
Germany has committed to building two huge terminals to receive liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar, the Gulf state said last week after a visit by German ministers.
The monthlong invasion of Ukraine by Russia, Europe’s top gas supplier, has sharpened concerns of disruption to energy supplies and increased scrutiny of European Union countries’ reliance on imported fossil fuels.
Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, reporting from Doha, said Zelenskyy’s address was not announced to be part of the programme, probably because the organisers also wanted to bring in the Russian side.
“Zelenskyy used the opportunity to address over dozen world leaders participating at the forum to further press them to take stronger action in putting an end to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Elshayyal said from the annual Doha Forum.
Russia ‘bragging’ on nuclear weapons
The Ukrainian president also made remarks on Russia’s “bragging” about its nuclear weapons, saying that Moscow was fuelling a dangerous arms race.
“They are bragging that they can destroy with nuclear weapons not only a certain country but the entire planet,” Zelenskyy said in a live video message to the forum on the 31st day of the Russian military assault against his country.
When Ukraine dismantled its nuclear stockpile in the 1990s, it was given “security assurances from the most powerful countries in the world”, including Russia, he said in comments translated into English for the conference.
“But these assurances did not become guarantees. And in fact, one of the countries supposed to give one of the greatest security promises started to work against Ukraine and this is the ultimate manifestation of injustice,” Zelenskyy added.
Zelenskyy also said no country is insured against shocks from disruptions to food supply happening because of Russia’s invasion of his country. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain producers.
“The world’s markets have not yet overcome from the repercussions of the pandemic, from the price shocks of food. No one is insured against these shocks and you cannot be insured if there is a physical scarcity of food,” he said.
“Russian troops are covering fields in Ukraine for miles, they are exploding agrarian equipment.”
He compared Russia’s destruction of the port city of Mariupol with the Syrian and Russian destruction wrought on the city of Aleppo in the Syrian war.
“They are destroying our ports,” Zelenskyy said. “The absence of exports from Ukraine will deal a blow to countries worldwide.”