Russia continues to provide the Ukraine with gas. But for how long and at what price? EU Energy Commissioner Günter Oettinger says the EU can support Ukraine in its efforts to find new energy sources.
Deutsche Welle: What can the European Union do now to help Ukraine concerning the supply of energy and gas?
Günther Oettinger: As a full-fledged member of the European Energy Community, the Ukraine is entitled to receive assistance from us. After examining the Ukrainian gas transit system we have worked out plans for its modernization and reconstruction. These plans could be realized quite quickly, and a part of them will be co-financed with the European Bank for Reconstruction and the World Bank. Furthermore, we can also reduce Ukraine's dependence on Russian gas by improving existing gas pipelines which connect Poland, Hungary and Slovakia with Ukraine. So far, these pipelines have transported gas only in one direction: from East to West. They could however be equipped so that they can also transport gas in the opposite direction. That means we could then provide Ukraine with gas from European markets.
The Russian gas provider Gazprom could raise gas prices for Ukraine in April. Is there anything the European Union could do to help out?
In the light of such developments, it is even more important that we come up with feasible alternatives. Supplying Ukraine with gas from the European Union would not only reduce the amount it needs to import from Russia, but would also strengthen its position when it comes to negotiations with Russia.
How dependent is the EU at this point on Russian gas supplies? Would Europe go cold and dark if Russia were to cut us off from its supplies?
No need to worry. Our gas repositories are very big and they are full, theoretically enabling us to cover our needs over weeks to come. Within the EU, gas can be transported across borders and in all kinds of directions. We have grown much less dependent than ever before. We are involved in a permanent dialogue with our Russian partners. The Russians want to supply us, and we will pay. That's why we are mutually dependent. At this point, both Russia and the EU are inclined to keep the gas issue out of the current political crisis, and to ensure it is not caught up in the current politicization of business relations.
Does that mean that possible sanctions should not touch upon gas supplies, because both sides would suffer too much from such measures?
Gas supplies are certainly not suitable as a political instrument.
Günther Oettinger is EU Energy Commissioner. He has long advocated closer energy cooperation within the EU and the opening up of new sources of supply. However, last year, the European Nabucco gas pipeline, which Oettinger had supported, had to be abandoned because there were not enough gas suppliers in Central Asia prepared to commit to supplying it.