Trump victory, Brexit impact is shifting West’s Russia bias: Gazprom

A general view shows the headquarters of Gazprom in Moscow, Russia, June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Vladimir Soldatkin and Shadia Nasralla

VIENNA (Reuters) – Russian state-controlled gas producer Gazprom expects Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president, Brexit and upcoming elections in France and Germany to improve Western attitudes towards Moscow, Gazprom’s deputy head Alexander Medvedev said.

President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranked Russian officials have publicly praised Trump, expecting him to lift U.S. sanctions on Moscow, first put in place in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Some observers in Moscow also see changing attitudes towards Russia in Europe following the wave of populism behind Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Trump’s election.

On Monday, the frontrunner in France’s presidential election Francois Fillon said sanctions on Russia were pointless and warned that Russia and the U.S. under Trump could forge links that exclude the EU.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who polls show is likely to make the final two-person runoff in the May election, has expressed her admiration for Putin.

“It’s not (only) my opinion but many people’s too that the political environment will be in a stage of serious change. With Mr Trump elected, with Brexit, with elections in France, with elections in Germany,” Medvedev told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the European Gas conference in Vienna. “We believe that the results of these elections are reflecting the opinion of people who are not happy with certain attitudes of the political establishment,” he added.

Medvedev said this would improve the West’s attitude not only towards Russia, “but generally it would change policy of Western countries”.

Germany will hold a general election in September in which the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is expected to enter the national parliament for the first time.

Gazprom, Europe’s largest gas supplier, accounts for around 8 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product and has big political clout in the Kremlin’s dealings with neighbouring countries. Medvedev also said he did not expect a fast turnaround in U.S. energy policy despite Trump’s push for more energy exports. Trump has picked former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy. The country’s oil and gas industry welcomed his appointment and called on him to make increasing exports of U.S. natural gas a top priority. “We should not forget that the United States are still a net importer of oil and gas. To change this situation quickly will not be possible especially in view of the increase of local consumption,” Medvedev said.

“We see a lot of areas where Russia and the United States could cooperate in the energy sector,” he added, including launching swaps between sea-borne liquefied natural gas and pipeline gas. “It’s not an artificial invention, it’s a real possibility to develop our business together,” he said.

“We have delivered our LNG to the United States already in 2004. So we have experience with working with the Americans,” Medvedev said.

The United States exported its first cargo of LNG gas to Europe last year. It plans to commission four LNG export terminals in 2017-2020. It currently has one working LNG terminal in Sabine Pass, Louisiana.

(Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Susan Thomas)