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EU seeks energy autonomy

February 25, 2015

As Russia and Ukraine's gas deliveries dispute heats up, the EU has announced plans to revamp its energy sector. The idea is thought to target Moscow "where it hurts."

Ukraine Gas Kompresserstation in Chervonodonetsk
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Kozlov

The EU announced plans to re-haul its energy sector on Wednesday. The European Commission's vice president for energy affairs, Maros Sefcovic, spoke of a "very deep energy transition." Sefcovic called it "undoubtedly the most ambitious energy project" since the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community - the EU's precursor - more than 50 years ago.

The proposal aims at reducing energy dependence on Russia; 40 percent of Europe's natural gas imports come from there. The measures plan to improve infrastructure so that countries can share supplies across borders, end regulated pricing, increase the number of liquefied natural gas terminals and improve information sharing between companies and member states on negotiations with big suppliers such as Russia.

Sefovic said the EU would work more closely with neighbors such as Algeria, Turkey and Norway to diversify sources of energy supply.

"Our dependence on external energy resources has affected our ability to conduct an independent foreign policy," the leader of the EU parliament's liberal ALDE group, Guy Verhofstadt, said. He added that the energy project would create jobs, mitigate climate change and hit Russian President "Putin where it hurts most," as the country is already struggling economically amid a global decrease in oil prices.

Ukraine-Russia gas spat

European endeavors to decrease its energy dependence upon Russia come amid an ongoing row over gas deliveries to Ukraine.

Russia warned it could turn off its gas supplies to Ukraine by the weekend. By extension, this would affect other parts of Europe, as Russian deliveries to the EU pass through Ukraine.

Russian energy giant Gazprom said it might stop the deliveries because Kyiv had not met a prepayment deadline. After Ukraine energy company Naftogaz said last week it wouldn't supply energy to the rebel-held regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, Gazprom announced it had started pumping gas to the east of Ukraine. But Kyiv, the state-run Russian company said, would have to pay for the deliveries.

Ukraine, on the other hand, said it would make the demanded prepayment to Gazprom only if the company stopped delivering gas to the rebel territories, according to an exchange of letters between Gazprom chief Alexei Miller and Naftogaz, as published by the Russian Interfax news agency.

Putin accuses Ukraine of "genocide"

Vladimir Putin on Wednesday criticized Kyiv's refusal to supply gas to the rebel-held Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

"It's not enough that there's hunger there and the OSCE has reported a humanitarian catastrophe, but then to switch off gas supplies too! What do you call that," Putin told reporters in Moscow. "That already smells of genocide."

He reiterated Gazprom's threats of a potential cutoff for Ukraine, saying that this could "create a problem" for Europe.

In an EU-brokered deal signed in October of last year, Russia said it would deliver gas to Ukraine through the winter season, until the end of March - but in return for the prepayments.

Sefcovic said the issue of gas deliveries to Luhansk and Donetsk should be treated separately than the rest of Ukraine, but that there was "conflicting information from both sides concerning … supplies … and how the gas … should be billed." The commissioner added that he was trying to arrange a meeting "very soon" with Russian and Ukrainian ministers.

sb/msh (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)