By RFE/RL staff
Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak has met with his U.S. counterpart Rick Perry and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to discuss energy issues and U.S. sanctions on Russia.
“We met. We discussed energy issues, among other things. We touched upon questions related to sanctions,” Novak said in a press briefing in Washington after meeting on June 26 with Mnuchin, who in the last year has issued stiff sanctions on Russian tycoons, defense and intelligence agencies, and other targets.
“We can’t sidestep these difficult questions, so of course we touched upon them during our contact,” Novak said.
Russian state-run news agency TASS said Novak specifically raised the issue of recent U.S. threats to impose sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream II gas-pipeline project, which is planned to run through the Baltic Sea to Germany.
The U.S. Congress in a Russian-sanctions law passed last year authorized Mnuchin to impose sanctions on the project, which is being built jointly by Russia’s Gazprom and Western European energy companies.
The Nord Stream pipeline is intended to partly replace a decades-old pipeline route through Ukraine that has been the subject of many disputes between Kyiv and Moscow.
Novak did not say what he and Mnuchin discussed about the sanctions, but he was quoted by TASS as saying they will “keep in touch” on the matter.
Novak has said in the past that the United States should not be allowed to impose sanctions on Russia without a vote of the United Nations Security Council, where Russia has veto power as a permanent member.
The U.S. sanctions were intended to punish Russia for its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and for allegedly meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Moscow denies interfering in the election.
During his visit with Energy Secretary Perry, Novak said he also raised the issue of threatened sanctions on the Nord Stream project and they discussed energy cooperation. The meeting occurred on the sidelines of a World Gas Conference in Washington.
TASS quoted Novak as saying the two discussed “the work of U.S. companies in the Russian market, including ExxonMobil, Schlumberger, Halliburton and others, [and] the impact of sanctions on those companies’ work.”
According to TASS, Novak said the two also discussed “promoting gas on global markets as the most environmentally-friendly-type of fuel.”
Before the meeting, Perry told reporters that he was “amenable to having conversations, to creating a relationship” with Russia.
“I think we’ve got our issues with Russia, but I’m one of those that believe you need to be having conversations with folks and finding places that we can work together,” he said.
“He had invited me to, actually, to come visit some of the things that they are doing in the Arctic,” Perry said.
The United States and Russia in the past have competed more than cooperated on energy issues. Both countries are among the world’s top three oil producers and the United States since championing fracking technology in the last decade has rivaled Russia as the world’s biggest producer of natural gas.
The two countries are currently competing in markets from China to Western Europe. U.S. producers recently started shipping liquefied natural gas to Poland and Lithuania, for example, breaking into markets that for decades belonged to Russia.
While both Russia and the United States are top oil producers, Russia exports most of its oil while the United States consumes nearly all of the oil it produces and imports millions of barrels more each day.
As one of the top two oil-consuming countries, U.S. officials have been urging Russia and other exporters to increase production to ease a sharp rise in prices this year. Russia last week met with the OPEC oil cartel and they agreed to increase production by a modest 1 million barrels a day.