UPDATE 1-Putin says no politics behind Nord Stream gas pipeline expansion

* Nord Stream 2 would double existing pipeline capacity

* Putin says Ukraine could remain a gas transit route

* Ex-communist European states want less reliance on Russian gas (Adds detail, quotes)

MOSCOW, March 22 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was purely economic and not directed against other countries, as he met the head of German chemicals group BASF, a potential partner in the project.

Moscow wants to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline, which runs on the Baltic seabed to Germany, in order to bypass Ukraine, a transit route for Russian gas to Europe.

However, those plans were met with scepticism in Europe, especially among former communist countries such as Poland, which have been trying to wean themselves off energy supplies from their former Soviet overlord.

“I know that you support the expansion of the project (Nord Stream), which is of a purely economic nature,” Putin told BASF Chairman Kurt Bock at a meeting in the Kremlin.

Russia’s Gazprom has formed a consortium with BASF and other companies for the new pipeline, which some European governments say risks increasing reliance on gas from Russia, benefiting Germany but undermining EU unity on energy issues.

Earlier this month, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Nord Stream 2 was not a “project of common interest” to the European Union.

“I want to stress that the project is not aimed against any of our partners,” Putin said, adding that Russia was ready to use Ukraine as a gas transit country.

Bock told the Russian leader he hoped Nord Stream 2 would succeed, adding that the project’s rationale was rising gas consumption in Europe.

He echoed comments from Wintershall, of which BASF is the parent company. Earlier on Wednesday, Wintershall Chief Executive Mario Mehren said the company was still looking for ways to support Nord Stream 2 after opposition by Poland last year prompted it to withdraw from the plan.

Nord Stream 2, initially scheduled to open in 2019, was meant to double the amount of gas shipped directly from Russia to Germany to 110 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year. This compares to the record-high 179.3 bcm that Russia supplied to Europe and Turkey last year.

Gazprom was also partnered in Nord Stream 2 by Uniper , Shell, OMV and Engie. The shareholder deal was scrapped late last year after protests from Poland.

Gazprom’s deputy chief executive, Alexander Medvedev, told Reuters in January that the company was on track with plans for Nord Stream 2 and expected to receive financing this year from its European partners. (Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Dale Hudson)


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