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EU: Gas security still hinges on Ukraine

Russia sends most of its west-bound gas through the former Soviet republic.

By Daniel J. Graeber

MOSCOW, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Though diversification strategies are on the table, a European official told Russia state media Ukraine plays a critical role in regional energy security.

Europe gets about a quarter of its natural gas supplies from Russia, though most of that runs through the Soviet-era pipeline network in Ukraine. Contractual disputes in 2006 and 2009 between Kiev and gas supplier Gazprom left downstream consumers in Europe in the cold for weeks and recent turmoil in Ukraine has only exacerbated the problem.

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Beate Raabe, a natural gas director for the European Union, said Ukraine is still a vital part of the energy security chain.

"It is important that the businesses continue to cooperate, we cannot change the political climate, as much as we hope the political parties will do their utmost to end the armed conflict in Ukraine and to find a lasting solution to the problem, because that will also help the energy market," she told Russian news agency Sputnik, formerly RIA Novosti.

European efforts to diversify its gas supply network predate recent Ukrainian moves away from its former overseers in the Kremlin. Dubbed the Southern Corridor, European leaders, with help sometimes from U.S. negotiators, are looking to bring gas through new networks originating in Azerbaijan.

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Russia, meanwhile, is sending gas to the northern European market through its twin Nord Stream pipeline through the Baltic Sea. South Stream, a network planned to cross the Black Sea, was scrapped last month by the Kremlin.

Raabe said the European energy market will still rely, however, on gas supplied from Russia.

"I don't think there is a desire for Europe to survive without Russian gas," she said in an interview published Thursday.

The South Stream decision was seen as a reflection of low demand for additional natural gas volumes in the European market as much as it does frustration with Russia's role in the market.

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