PRAGUE, Czech Republic, May 14 (UPI) -- Former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said the row over Ukraine is part of an overall effort to get Gazprom's gas pipeline, South Stream, built.
A pivot toward the European Union by former Soviet republic Ukraine in November sparked a crisis that's escalated into a turf war reminiscent of the Cold War.
About 80 percent of the Russian natural gas sent to European consumers runs through the Soviet-era transit network and Gazprom has said cash-strapped Ukraine is putting those supplies at risk because of mounting debt.
Topolanek said that, when a similar row over Ukrainian gas erupted in 2009, Russia made similar claims about energy sector to advance its Nord Stream gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea.
Topolanek was prime minister during the 2009 gas crisis. Nord Stream was inaugurated in 2011.
Gazprom says South Stream would add a layer of diversity to a European energy sector at risk because of geopolitical tensions over Ukraine. European leaders say it would only strengthen Russia's grip on the region.