In October last year, Aberdeen Lord Provost Barney Crockett was in Moscow promoting the city’s energy interests – and sharing a conference bill with the Vladimir Putin.
Just over four months later, the Russian president has shocked the world by launching an invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.
The move has drawn global condemnation, including the imposition of harsh sanctions and calls for the countries of Europe to try and wean themselves off Russian supplies – including, perhaps most significantly, oil and gas.
Mr Crockett told the P&J he does not look back on his visit to the Russian Energy Week conference any differently in light of this morning’s events, saying: “We were there with the World Energy Council, and Aberdeen is being presented as a model for places like Moscow to emulate.”
He did not cross paths with Mr Putin – although he “was in the room while he was speaking” – instead rubbing shoulders with figures such as Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin.
At the time, he told Energy Voice: “That shows you the kind of company that Aberdeen is keeping.”
Asked if he would return to the Russian capital again following the invasion, Mr Crockett said he would if it was in the interests of Aberdeen, but “obviously not in the present circumstances”.
He added: “Of course, you don’t need to say that there will not be close relationships [with Russia or Moscow] in the current circumstances.
“I would hope that in the future, Aberdeen can rebuild relationships in a different political context, but definitely in the dreadful circumstances of the moment it wouldn’t.”
Difficulties of weaning off Russian energy
As president of the World Energy Cities Partnership (WECP), Mr Crockett is among the figures contemplating the extent to which governments dismayed by Putin’s actions can end their reliance on Russian oil and gas – a vital pillar of the country’s economy.
He said: “One of the reasons I was in Moscow was the enormous importance of Russia to the energy future, and you could hardly imagine worse circumstances than to have the breach we have at the moment.
“I think 40% of gas consumed in Europe is from Russia, 25% of oil.
“They are almost impossible to replace, and the enormous impact it’s going to have in lots of things, but most obviously at the moment prices, is going to have a huge impact on the world, and it’s quite sobering to even contemplate.”
He said much of the commentary around the issue was “overoptimistic in how easy that’s going to be”, adding that “it would take quite a long time if it was indeed even possible”.
Mr Crockett said the reluctance to invest more in gas “greatly empowers Mr Putin”, and that “if we want to reduce the power of Mr Putin – awkward as it sounds, given our decarbonisation plans – we’re going to have to start finding new oil and gas”.
‘Welcome mat ready’ for arrivals from Eastern Europe
Asked what message he would send to those in Aberdeen who may be personally affected by the events in Ukraine, Mr Crockett said: “I would certainly hope that all the communities that might be affected – obviously, Ukraine is by far the most extreme affected, but there will be anxieties for people from all about that region – feel like they are very warmly embraced by the people of Aberdeen, and that we will do what we can to make them feel protected.
“And also, that we may have new arrivals in some distress from that region as well, and we must be prepared to have our welcome mat ready in that case.”