* Talks focus on new sources, greater efficiency
* Analysts urge need to separate politics and energy
* National interests dilute stance against Russia
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, May 5 European Union officials
hunkered down behind closed doors on Monday to confront the hard
choices to be made for the EU to wean itself off Russian gas,
even considering more use of polluting coal.
Analysts said the debate could be counter-productive as it
was likely to stoke divisions over energy policy within the
28-nation bloc while doing nothing to calm tensions with Russia
The talks involving European Energy Commissioner Guenther
Oettinger and technical experts from member states took place
after a weekend of violence killed dozens in Ukraine, a major
transit route for Russian gas into the EU.
A copy of the programme for Monday's three-hour talks on
energy security seen by Reuters listed debate on options such as
increased use shale gas, better storage and a drive to reduce
One of the technical experts attending the meeting said on
condition of anonymity that discussion had focused on the need
for other fuels, even coal, which is far more polluting than
gas, and improved energy efficiency "as part of a bundle of
The talks are part of a series to develop ideas for an EU
summit next month after all 28 EU member states in March agreed
on the need to improve energy security and asked the European
Commission, the EU executive, to draw up an in-depth plan on the
alternatives to Russian supplies.
More coal burning would run counter to the EU's policy of
reducing carbon emissions as part of the fight against climate
Member states, with powerful industry interests, have
confused the issue by pursuing their own agendas and in some
cases, strengthening Russia's hand and effectively siding
Austrian energy firm OMV agreed last week with
Russia's state-controlled Gazprom that Russia's giant
South Stream pipeline would be routed to the Baumgarten gas hub
in Austria, outmanoeuvring Italy which had wanted it to end
The pipeline would ship gas directly to Europe, making
Ukraine all but irrelevant. The Commission has said it flouts EU
law and has frozen talks on how to make it comply.
While some EU interests work bilaterally with Russia, others
have been trying to toughen EU unity.
Poland, which borders on Ukraine, has put forward a plan for
EU-wide cooperation over gas-buying to try to counter Russia's
divide and rule policy.
But a source who attended Monday's talks said Oettinger had
distanced himself from the Polish plan.
Because of the deep mutual dependency, at a political level,
EU governments are loath to place sanctions on Russia's energy
sector and analysts say Europe needs to separate energy from the
debate altogether if it wants to solve the crisis over Ukraine.
"Making this about energy is a fundamentally wrong choice in
my view, because Europe will bear the costs and the outcomes of
this trajectory are highly uncertain," said Tim Boersma, a
fellow in the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings
Institution, a Washington thinktank.
Russia provides around a third of EU gas imports, roughly
half of which is piped via Ukraine. On average, Russia gets $5
billion per month in revenue from gas exports to the EU.
EU dependency is expected to increase rather than shrink as
its domestic production dwindles.
For its part Russia has also been taking steps to find new
markets, as well as developing routes that bypass Ukraine.
It says negotiations on a supply contact with China are in
their final stages and could be signed this month.
But for both sides, Russia and the European Union, doing
without each other is a distant and costly prospect.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Russia could cut
off supplies to Ukraine unless it starts to pay off a gas debt,
which Gazprom says stands at $3.5 billion.
At the same time, a series of three-way talks bringing
together Russia, Ukraine and the European Union are taking place
on energy security.
(Editing by William Hardy)