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Gazprom ready for dialogue on EU energy supply reliability

Gazprom is ready for constructive discussions on Russia's reliability as an energy supplier to Europe, the Russian gas giant's press secretary said Wednesday.

Sergei Kupriyanov's comments follow the European Union's announcement earlier this week that Gazprom and other companies outside the EU would face restrictions in buying up energy assets in the 27-nation bloc. The state-controlled giant currently supplies 25% of Europe's gas, and has purchased stakes in EU energy companies.

"Gazprom is a reliable supplier of gas to the EU and a large investor in the infrastructure that delivers gas to Europe. We share the main aim of the European Union - to ensure long-term reliability of gas deliveries to the EU," he said.

Kupriyanov said that after a thorough analysis of European Union initiatives and consultations with key EU bodies, Gazprom would present its own assessment on how the proposed measures will tell on supply reliability, competitiveness of the European energy market, and ultimately on hydrocarbon prices in Europe.

On Tuesday, the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said Gazprom would face tough restrictions if it decides to acquire energy assets in EU countries, and that the EU favors openness of the international energy resource market, but would not be "naive" as regards acquisition of energy assets by foreign companies.

"In practice, third-country individuals and companies should not be able to acquire control over community transmission networks unless there is agreement between the community and their country of origin," Barroso told journalists.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, published draft documents restricting investment in the EU energy sector from third countries on Wednesday. The documents, aside from restricting non-commercial investment into the European energy sector by non-EU state-controlled companies, also envision the "reciprocity principle", which means the bloc could impose restrictions in regard to countries who themselves limit EU companies' investment.

A source in Russia's Economic Development and Trade Ministry said the EU-proposed measures could backfire at the EU, and that the ministry hoped the EU restrictions would not be implemented. "In our opinion, damage from such politicizing of investment issues will be reciprocal, but will hit the European Union more severely," he said.

The source said the European Commission's initiative had been met with negative responses from large European energy companies, in particular Gaz de France and Germany's E.ON, and a number of European economic analysts.

However, Barroso insisted that the draft measures are not aimed against Russia, but at creating equal competition terms for the EU and foreign investors.

In August, the European Commission had intended to convene a group of government experts and representatives of fuel producers and consumers from EU member states to discuss Russian energy supply reliability, shortly after Gazprom threatened to cut its natural gas deliveries to Belarus by 45% as of August 3 over the country's outstanding debt. However, Minsk backed down to Gazprom's demands at the last minute, drawing on government reserves to pay the debt in full.

Gazprom's threat had sparked fears that Belarus could tap gas from pipelines transiting Russian gas to Europe in a replay of a bitter price dispute with Ukraine in early 2006, which affected supplies to European consumers. The dispute raised concerns in Europe over excessive dependence on controlled Gazprom as a supplier.

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