European Union officials told Russia on Tuesday that state-owned Gazprom will not face unfair discrimination as it expands in Europe, but warned that the EU could not overlook the company's monopoly position as Russia's only gas exporter
But in a separate statement, the European Commission said the fact that other Russian companies and foreign joint ventures with gas reserves were not able to supply the EU market, "will be a significant fact that will necessarily be taken into account in any such objective analysis."
Under EU antitrust rules, monopolies have a special responsibility to ensure that the way they do business does not prevent fair competition that could harm consumer choice.
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at the West's hostile attitude toward Russia's growing clout in international energy markets, the AP reports.
"When they (foreign companies) come to us, it's investment and globalization, and when we plan to go somewhere, it's what? It's the expansion of Russian companies," Putin said in reference to opposition in Britain to rumored plans by Gazprom to acquire the largest British gas distributor.
His comments followed similar recommendations from high-ranking officials at OAO Gazprom and Transneft pipeline company that Russia should diversify its markets away from an over-reliance on Europe, which were perceived in Europe as a threat.
Europe started questioning in earnest its dependency on Russian gas, which feeds Europe one quarter of its gas needs, after Russia temporarily cut off gas supplies in a dispute with neighboring Ukraine around New Year's.
However, Piebalgs and Bartenstein stressed that Russia "and in particular Gazprom" was a reliable supplier of natural gas to the EU.
It called for Russia to sign the Energy Charter Treaty and Transit Protocol that could set up formal mediation for future disputes over gas transport. It also reminded Moscow that long-term gas supply contracts would facilitate the "very significant investments" Russia needed to meet future demand.
More than 3,500 people were detained during unprecedented mass protests that swept across all of Russia in support of Alexey Navalny on January 23