BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Ukraine's energy minister, EU officials and industry representatives held talks on Tuesday on cutting reliance on Russian gas as tension with Moscow drove home the urgency of finding alternative energy sources and supply routes.
Concerns reached a new pitch after pro-Moscow protesters seized buildings in eastern Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking industrial heartland, which Kiev said is a replay of events in Crimea, the peninsula Moscow annexed last month.
A copy of an invitation to industry, seen by Reuters, says Oettinger invites "relevant gas companies for a frank and open discussion" to contribute to EU energy security for the next winter and over the mid-term.
In particular, it cites the importance of including liquefied natural gas operators. Super-cooled LNG, which can be brought by ship from sources around the world, is one way to cut reliance on pipeline gas from Russia.
Following previous crises in 2006 and 2009 over Kiev's unpaid gas bills, which led to the disruption of exports to western Europe, the European Union has already introduced some measures to improve itsenergy security, including increased gas storage and more renewable energy.
Denmark put forward the idea, adopted by an EU summit last month, that the Commission should draw up by June a detailed plan on increasing energy security and says this time around the mood is completely different.
"There is no doubt that this is a game-changer," Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard told Reuters by telephone late last week, ahead of the Brussels talks. "The whole Ukraine crisis has definitely changed the atmosphere during our discussions."
Europe hopes to secure extra imports of LNG and is working on increasing capacity to reverse the flow through some pipelines so that gas, including some imported from Russia, can be sent back eastward to Ukraine from EU countries.
Europe's increased storage levels, currently around half full, mean it can cope with a short-term disruption.