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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Fumes at U.S. Warning

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday angrily criticized a U.S. diplomat's warning to the European Union that a prospective natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea could further increase its energy dependence on Russia, saying Washington wanted global energy routes to bypass Russia.

The ministry said the European Union's energy security hinged on Russian gas supplies.

"Let's refrain from discussing whether it was a proper thing for a U.S. official to do to take responsibility to tell Germany how it should develop cooperation with Russia," the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the United States had previously criticized the Blue Stream gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea delivering Russian gas to Turkey.

"Unfortunately, one could get an impression that the U.S. opposition to the Blue Stream project and now to the North European gas pipeline is driven not by its concern about Europe's energy security, but by some U.S. officials' belief that good gas pipelines are those which bypass Russia," the Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry's comments came in response to an interview by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza with the Financial Times published Sunday.

"If you live in Germany you do not want to go through what happened last winter with Ukraine," Bryza said, the Times reported. "I wonder as a U.S. official how much diversification anybody can develop by having more pipelines into the same supplier.

"That project simply raises the question what diversification means when it comes to gas supply."

The European Union has voiced concerns about its dependence on Russian gas -- which accounts for one-quarter of European gas consumption -- when Russian gas supplies to Europe were temporarily cut off in a dispute with neighboring Ukraine early this year.

President Vladimir Putin has said Germany could become a gas distribution hub for Europe, a vision that worries some of the EU's newest members, who rely on the bloc's collective bargaining power to get a fair deal from Gazprom. Germany is already the top European customer of Gazprom. It supplies one-quarter of Europe's gas and its share of the market is expected to rise in coming decades as North Sea supplies begin to peter out.

Bryza's interview and the Foreign Ministry's response reflect a growing chill in Russian-U.S. ties, already strained because of differences over Iran and other global crises and U.S. criticism of the Kremlin's democracy record and strong-arming of ex-Soviet neighbors.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der, who now serves as chairman of the consortium building the Baltic pipeline, has defended Russia's record as an energy supplier and insisted that the pipeline would not compete with existing supply routes.

Gazprom holds a controlling 51 percent stake in the pipeline consortium, while German companies BASF and E.On each have 24.5 percent.

(AP, Reuters)