Russia’s Energy Minister warned the West yesterday that although “forecasting is a thankless task in hydrocarbons, one can say with certainty that the era of cheap hydrocarbons is over.”

He also warned that Russia was intent on “the expansion of our own participation” in other countries’ oil and gas assets. But any political intervention by EU states to stop Russian firms buying their European rivals would be regarded as “unfriendly”. This was seen as a direct attack on the UK Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who has indicated that any bid by Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, for Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, would be treated as a “political” rather than “commercial” move.