FRANKFURT (Reuters) - European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said on Thursday the bloc was seeking to fill its gas storage facilities and de-escalate a row between Ukraine and Russia in order to safeguard its own gas shipments from Russia in the 2014/15 winter.
Ukraine warned Europe on Wednesday Russia could cut off gas to the continent this winter, but Moscow said the supplies would continue regardless of the political situation.
Oettinger told Germany's ARD television diplomacy to defuse tensions between Kiev and Moscow was of the highest importance.
"We need a solution that prevents an escalation between Ukraine and Russia," he said. "We need Ukraine as a transit country. Ukraine needs gas in winter. In a long and cold winter, Ukraine will not have enough stored gas of its own."
Three-way gas consultations will take place in Moscow on Friday between Russia, Ukraine and the EU. Russia cut supplies to Ukraine in June, and there were transit spats and supply disruptions in 2006 and 2009, which spilled over into Europe.
Ukraine, which consumes over 50 billion cubic metres of gas (bcm) per annum, half that of Germany, could be tempted to divert gas aimed for the EU for its own uses, Oettinger said.
Europe, which receives around a third of its gas for industry and heating from Russia, has meanwhile escalated moves to take its own precautions, he said.
"We are getting ready. We have a daily debate - how can we fill those storage facilities," he said.
EU leaders are due to present a plan in October for ensuring gas supplies are sufficient over the winter.
German gas imports have so far not been impaired by the crisis as transit deliveries have normal and much of the volume destined for Germany bypasses Ukraine, for example via the Nord Stream pipeline.
Official data to June shows no let-up in deliveries out of Russia, which supplied 38 percent of German imports.[GAS/DE]
(Reporting by Vera Eckert, editing by David Evans)