Firm Tries to Ease EU Gas Fears

PARIS -- Newly merged French energy group GDF Suez sought to defuse the threat of a rift with Russia over gas supplies as European Union leaders thrashed out a response to Moscow's intervention in Georgia.

Europe's second-largest listed energy utility said it was confident that Russia would continue to provide gas supplies that are seen as one of Europe's economic lifelines.

"There have been ups and downs in the last 30 years, but we are very confident in our relationship with our supplier," deputy chairman Jean-Francois Cirelli told a news conference.

Cirelli was speaking while presenting the group's inaugural half-year results, bolstered by high energy prices.

Russia is France's third-largest gas supplier, behind Norway and second-placed Algeria, and provided 16 percent of the gas consumed in the euro zone's second-largest economy last year.

At an emergency summit in Brussels, EU leaders were expected to condemn Russia for its military campaign and subsequent recognition of two Georgian rebel regions as independent states, but faced a struggle to find a common tone.

France, Germany and Italy have said any punitive action against the bloc's largest energy supplier would be premature, but Britain called on the 27-nation EU to suspend talks on a wide-ranging new partnership agreement with Russia in protest.

The tussle within the EU is complicated by the bloc's dependence on Moscow for much of its oil and gas and the struggle to develop other sources, such as the Nabucco pipeline due to bring Azeri gas to Europe via Georgia and Turkey.