MOSCOW, May 6 (RIA Novosti) – The European Union has hardened its stance on the construction of the South Stream natural gas pipeline amid the Ukrainian crisis, the EU commissioner for energy said in an interview with the Financial Times Tuesday.
"These days, with Ukraine, we are more and more defensive related to Russian pipelines than one year ago … These days, exemptions are not my priority for Gazprom," Günther Oettinger was quoted as saying.
Commenting on Russia filing a complaint to the World Trade Organization against the third energy package that was recently approved by the EU to limit Gazprom’s monopoly on the European energy market, Oettinger expressed doubt that the laws could be changed in the near future.
"It is not realistic to expect that we change these rules in the next days or the next years. No doubt there is a different culture. In Russia, the government and Gazprom, they prefer to dominate the whole chain from production upstream … to downstream power plants,” Oettinger said, according to the Financial Times.
The third energy package prohibits owners of mainland pipelines to perform gas extraction, which means Gazprom would be required to grant access to South Stream to other suppliers. Russia filed a complaint on the matter to the WTO last week.
Moscow is also concerned about the uncertainty around the Opal pipeline, which passes through Germany connecting the new trans-Baltic North Stream pipeline with gas transmission networks in Western and Central Europe. On Monday, the press service of the German Federal Network Agency told RIA Novosti that a decision on the issue has been postponed until mid-July.
Last week, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said that there is a certain restraint on the part of European Commission against the construction of South Stream, which is aimed to diversify the export of Russian gas and is especially important in the context of recent events in Ukraine.
Russia annually pumps about 100 billion cubic meters of gas to European countries via Ukraine, which makes up 80 percent of its total gas supplies to Europe. The 15.5-billion-euro South Stream pipeline project is designed to cut Russia's dependence on the Ukrainian transit system.
Russian energy giant Gazprom said it would announce the final South Stream pipeline route in summer. Gazprom is considering three routes for the project: through Bulgaria to Serbia, Hungary and Austria; through Bulgaria to Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria and Italy; or through Bulgaria and Greece to the south of Italy.