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EU agrees to improve European grid to curb need for Russian gas

* Funding especially targeted at central, eastern Europe

* British-French grid link also gets money

BRUSSELS, Jan 19 (Reuters) - EU member states on Tuesday endorsed a plan to invest more than 200 million euros ($217 million) in cross-border energy infrastructure projects designed to help curb dependence on Russian gas.

The European Commission is seeking to improve power and gas connections across the European Union’s 28 member states to allow better distribution of available supplies as part of a single energy market.

The EU is keen to reduce reliance on Russia, which supplies about a third of EU oil and gas.

The dominant position of Russia’s Gazprom has become particularly divisive since relations between Brussels and Moscow deteriorated after Russia seized the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014.

The Commission wants every member state to have at least three possible sources of gas.

“We must press ahead with the modernisation of our energy networks to bring any country still isolated into the European energy market,” European Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said, announcing the funding.

Of the 15 proposals selected for total funding of 217 million euros, nine are in the gas sector and six in the electricity sector.

Called projects of common interest because they benefit more than one member state, the projects are entitled to accelerated planning permission as well as EU funding, which the Commission hopes will attract private sector cash.

Most of the 15 projects are in central and southeastern Europe, where dependency on Russian gas is most marked.

Britain is not directly affected by the Russian crisis as it is not dependent on its gas, but it is nervous about the adequacy of national supplies and the extra costs it might incur from emergency back up plans.

The new funding will also help pay for a grid link between France and Britain being built by Britain’s National Grid and France’s Reseau de Transport d’Electricite (RTE).

$1 = 0.9205 euros Reporting by Barbara Lewis; additional reporting by Susanna Twidale in London; editing by David Clarke

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