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Germany's dependence on Russian gas poses risks for Europe - Polish PM

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s prime minister said on Monday he would ask Chancellor Angela Merkel to work to reduce German and European dependence on Russian gas to avert “potential aggressive steps by Russia in the future”.

Merkel will visit Poland on Wednesday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, where Russia has effectively taken control of the southern Crimean peninsula. Events there have highlighted European reliance on Russian oil and gas.

Ukraine is a major gas transit nation for supplies from Russia to the European Union (EU), which relies on Russia for over a quarter of its gas.

“Germany’s dependence on Russian gas may effectively decrease Europe’s sovereignty. I have no doubts about that,” Prime Minister Donald Tusk told a news conference.

“Increasingly more expensive energy in Europe due to exorbitant climate and environmental ambitions may also mean greater dependence in Russian energy sources...Hence, I will talk (to Merkel) primarily about how Germany is able to correct some economic actions so that dependence on Russian gas doesn’t paralyse Europe when it needs...a decisive stance.”

Germany has been one of the strongest proponents of increasing the share of renewable energy sources in Europe. Poland gets nearly all its energy from domestically produced coal and has opposed these efforts in the past.

“The question of Ukraine is a question of EU’s future, EU’s safety, and a correction of EU’s energy policy,” Tusk said.

“We will not be able to efficiently fend off potential aggressive steps by Russia in the future, if so many European countries are dependent on Russian gas deliveries or wade into such dependence,” he added.

Poland is the largest central European economy and has played a role in diplomatic efforts of the European Union in the worst stand-off between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War.

Four central European countries have already asked the U.S. Congress to make it easier for them to import natural gas from the United States and reduce their dependence on supplies from Russia.

Last year, Russia’s gas export giant Gazprom supplied EU and Turkey with a record 162 billion cubic metres of gas, of which 86 bcm went via Ukraine.

Gazprom issued a veiled warning last week that it could stop shipping gas to Ukraine over unpaid bills, bringing to mind a brief disruption in deliveries during a dispute between Russia and Ukraine during a cold winter in 2009.

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said he did not expect Russia to switch off gas supplies to Europe over the Ukraine crisis. If no more gas flowed through Ukraine, it would affect 14 percent of European gas consumption, he added.

Reporting by Adrian Krajewski; Editing by Marcin Goettig and Ralph Boulton