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Russia warns of high risk to gas deliveries to Europe this winter

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak warned on Friday (Aug 29) of high risks of disruptions to supplies of Russian gas to Europe as international tensions over Ukraine mounted.

MOSCOW: Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak warned on Friday (Aug 29) of high risks of disruptions to supplies of Russian gas to Europe as international tensions over Ukraine mounted.

"The situation is extremely critical as the heating season approaches," Novak said at a joint press conference with the EU's Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger. "There is a high risk that gas delivered by Gazprom for Europe will be illegally taken by Ukraine for its own use," he warned.

Russia cut in mid-June its deliveries for Ukraine after a pro-Western government took power and disputes over prices led to what Novak said was the accumulation of a debt of US$5.3 billion. That decision heightened concerns about supplies to Europe as a major portion of Russian gas flows through Ukraine.

Russia is the EU's top supplier of gas. The 28-nation bloc depends on energy imports for more than 50 per cent of its needs, and roughly 40 per cent of those imports are supplied by Russia.

Moscow has a history of using gas prices as a political weapon and has twice shut off supplies to Ukraine in the past decade, causing supply disruptions to Europe in 2006 and 2009.