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Europe looks to cut Russian gas imports amid Ukraine crisis

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Bela Szandelszky/AP/File

(Read caption) An engineer checks the pressure in natural gas pipelines at a gas receiving station in Vecses, Hungary, near Budapest. The EU imports around one-third of its natural gas from Russia, much of it pumped through pipelines across Ukraine.

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At a summit in Brussels next week, European Union leaders are expected to call for measures that would cut Europe’s reliance on imported natural gas, according to draft documents for the meeting. EU leaders are scrambling to reduce their exposure to the political meddling of Russia, which has demonstrated its willingness to disrupt energy supplies for geopolitical leverage. The EU imports around one-third of its natural gas from Russia, much of it pumped through pipelines across Ukraine.

For individual countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, dependence on Russia is much greater. For example, Ukraine gets about 70% of its gas from Russia. Bulgaria is almost entirely dependent on Russia for natural gas.

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"The European Council is concerned about Europe's high energy dependency rates, especially on gas, and calls for intensifying efforts to reduce them, especially in the most dependent member states," said the draft document prepared for March 20-21 summit in Brussels. (Related Article: Russia Needs to Sell Gas More than EU Needs to Buy it

The EU has already greatly improved the interconnections of electrical grids between member nations over the last few years. Policymakers now feel a renewed urgency to complete a single market for energy. New rules would also prevent Gazprom from exercising too much control over pipeline connections to Europe, effectively blocking the Russian-backed South Stream pipeline through the Black Sea.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Poland on March 12 to discuss the Ukrainian crisis with Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Poland wants Germany to reduce its dependence on Russian gas to help insulate Europe from Russia’s maneuvers. “Germany's dependence on Russian gas may effectively decrease Europe's sovereignty. I have no doubts about that,” Tusk said at a news conference. “The question of Ukraine is a question of EU's future, EU's safety, and a correction of EU's energy policy.”