Estonia calls on Europe to wean itself off Russian gas

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A giant 100-metre-high (320 feet) flame erupts out of a flare tower at the Snoehvit liquefied natural gas (LNG) complex in the town of Hammerfest in northern Norway September 18, 2007.REUTERS/Wojciech Moskwa

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VILNIUS, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Europe should develop green energy and import more liquefied natural gas (LNG) to reduce its dependence on Russia, Estonian Prime Minster Kaja Kallas told Reuters on Tuesday as the West braced for the possibility of a big Russian assault on Ukraine.

Germany put the brakes on a new gas pipeline from Russia, the EU's largest gas supplier, on Tuesday after Moscow formally recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. read more

The prospect of a disruption to energy supplies and fears of war rattled international financial markets and sent oil prices surging to their highest level since 2014. read more

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"This absolutely is the time to focus on renewable energy sources ... but also on agreements regarding LNG to substitute the Russian gas," Kallas said in a phone interview from Tallinn.

"Recent years have shown there is necessity to decrease EU dependency from Russian gas."

Europe relies on Russia for around 40% of its natural gas. That supply could be constrained by Western sanctions on Russia or if Moscow retaliates for sanctions by suspending sales, analysts say. It is also possible one of the pipelines that cross Ukraine bringing gas to Europe could be damage amid hostilities.

Russian gas cannot be easily replaced. Norway, Europe's second largest supplier, is already operating at maximum capacity, and Europe's existing LNG terminals have limited available capacity to absorb extra supply.

In an apparent jibe at the western part of Europe, Kallas said "countries which don't border Russia" did not think through the downsides of depending on its energy. "The last year has proven that the connection has two sides - the other side of the it can hurt you if you are too dependent on it," she said.

"MORE TROOPS"

Kallas said she expects a broadening of Russian aggression in Ukraine over the coming days, echoing warnings from NATO that Russia was still planning a big assault. read more

While NATO membership protects the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - once ruled from Moscow but now part of European Union - Kallas said the alliance should quickly reinforcing its eastern flank in the face of renewed Russia assertiveness.

"We should definitely go on with this process, which means additional capabilities to our region, but also more troops," she said.

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Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Tim Ahmann

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