(Releads with Austrian foreign minister's comments)
LUXEMBOURG/VIENNA, June 23 Austria remains
committed to Russia's controversial South Stream gas pipeline
project despite a deepening crisis in Ukraine, its foreign
minister and the head of its top energy company said on the eve
of a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"We need not only more suppliers, but also more variety in
the routes that energy can flow to us," Foreign Minister
Sebastian Kurz told reporters in Luxembourg on Monday, noting
five European Union countries firmly backed the project.
The South Stream pipeline would bring Russian gas to Europe
without crossing Ukraine, which has been locked in a violent
standoff with Russia after the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Moscow
President Viktor Yanukovich touched off a separatist uprising.
The European Commission has said the project can get
approved but has stressed it must conform to strict EU
competition and environmental laws.
The head of Austrian energy group OMV called for
accelerated negotiations to approve the South Stream pipeline,
telling a newspaper it was unrealistic to think Europe could
entirely wean itself off of Russian energy supplies.
Gerhard Roiss was speaking before Putin visits Vienna on
Tuesday, during which OMV and Russian partner Gazprom
are to sign a contract on bringing the South Stream gas pipeline
to Austria, as agreed in April.
"A third of our gas comes from Russia, in some regions even
100 percent," and in return Europe sends cars and machinery to
Russia, Roiss told the WirtschaftsBlatt newspaper.
"One should not make this economic integration into a
political football, because our economy and prosperity are based
on it," he said in remarks published on Monday.
"If we can get large quantities of gas from a certain region
then we have to give investors the chance to build gas highways.
Negotiations for South Stream should thus be accelerated and not
put on ice," Roiss said, while acknowledging that the project
would have to conform to European law.
Against the backdrop of conflict in Ukraine, the pipeline
plan has become a focus of tension between Russia and the
(Reporting by Tom Koerkemeier in Luxembourg and Michael Shields
in Vienna; Editing by Mark Potter)