MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday strongly defended a prospective Russia-Germany natural gas pipeline as economically feasible and voiced hope that European Union nations will be able to resist U.S. pressure to thwart the project.
U.S. officials have warned that Washington could impose sanctions on the undersea Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The U.S. and some EU nations oppose it, warning it would increase Europe's energy dependence on Russia. The U.S. is also interested in selling more of its liquefied natural gas in Europe.
Speaking Wednesday after talks with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in St. Petersburg, Putin noted that Bulgaria caved in to pressure and dumped the Russian South Stream pipeline.
He added that he hopes that "Europe as a whole won't look like Bulgaria and won't demonstrate its weakness and inability to protect its interests."
"Russia always has been and will remain the most reliable supplier," Putin said, adding that the Russian gas supplied via pipelines is significantly cheaper than U.S. liquefied gas. "Supplies come directly from Yamal in Siberia. There are no transit risks."
It would be "silly and wasteful" if Europe opts for a more expensive option, hurting its consumers and its global competitiveness, Putin charged.
Ukraine, which has served as the main transit route for Russian gas supplies to Europe, has strongly opposed the Russian pipeline, fearing that it would leave its pipeline empty. The two ex-Soviet neighbors have been locked in a bitter tug-of-war after Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
Kurz spoke in support of Nord Stream 2 but also emphasized the importance to continue supplies via Ukraine.
"It's very important that Ukraine's interests as a key transit country be upheld," he said.
Putin has previously pledged to consider the continuation of gas supplies via Ukraine if it settles a commercial dispute with Russia over previous gas supplies.