Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak accused the U.S. of weaponizing liquefied natural gas (LNG) — gas which is super-cooled to liquid form — in an attempt to derail Moscow's economic ties to Western Europe.
Speaking at an energy conference in the Russian capital on Wednesday, Novak said that when it comes to exporting LNG to Europe, Washington did not appear to be prepared to allow for the development of market competition.
"They use gas as a weapon and they do it on the other side of the Atlantic," Novak said, referring to the world's largest economy.
In response, Kelly Love, principal deputy press secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy, told CNBC via email: "The United States stands committed to offering Europe energy security and diversity, promoting the importance of energy choice and competitive markets across Europe."
"This is in direct contrast to Russia, who has weaponized natural gas for years by shutting it off at their political convenience to other countries — not once — but several times in the middle of winter," Love said.
It comes as construction continues apace on Nord Stream 2 — a contentious undersea gas pipeline that will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine when delivering gas exports to Europe.
The project, which Novak said was 82% complete, is intended to provide Europe with a sustainable gas supply while providing Russia with more direct access to the European gas market.
The pipeline is scheduled to become operational in early 2020.
The U.S. has expressed skepticism over Nord Stream 2 and in July, a U.S. Senate committee passed a bill to place sanctions on companies and individuals involved in building the undersea pipeline.
On Wednesday, when it was suggested to Novak that the U.S. had previously encouraged Europe to buy "freedom gas" rather than Russian LNG, he replied: "This is purely protectionism."
Earlier this year, the Department of Energy announced it planned to export "molecules of U.S. freedom" around the world. The metaphorical language for U.S. LNG exports to Europe came shortly after comments from U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry in May.
A reporter for EURACTIV asked Perry whether "freedom gas" would be an accurate way of describing U.S. LNG exports to Europe. He replied: "Yes, I think you may be correct in your observation."
With 28 countries and a combined population of around 512 million people, the European Union is something of a prized market — and political battleground — for the world's largest energy exporters, particularly when it comes to natural gas.
Russia has long been the dominant source and supplier of natural gas to Europe's mass market but the U.S. is looking to challenge Russia by stepping up its imports of U.S. LNG making it easier and safer to store and transport.
— CNBC's Holly Ellyatt contributed to this report.