BRUSSELS/MILAN, Dec 15 (Reuters) – Russia's divide-and-rule strategy threatens to sour summit talks in Brussels this week after Italy linked the extension of sanctions on Moscow to a debate of a Gazprom gas pipeline project, diplomats said.
In theory, the European Union is pursuing a single energy market, based on the needs of all 28 EU nations. It is also meant to be united against Russia as it seeks to defend the interests of Ukraine following Moscow's seizure of Crimea in March last year.
In reality, Germany's desire for secure supplies of cheap gas, Italy's interest in marketing energy major ENI's abundant new gas finds, and Baltic and eastern nations' wariness of Russian dominance make that unity fragile, EU diplomats say.
"Energy still remains a predominant tool in Russia's arsenal to gain political influence, divide Europe and weaken the common EU position on important energy issues," one EU diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Under normal conditions, pipelines are of commercial nature, but in Russia's case it is not just commerce, it implies a huge geopolitical dimension."
Russia's Gazprom and its European partners signed a shareholders' agreement on the Nord Stream-2 project in September, which would double the amount of gas directly shipped from Russia to Germany, cutting out traditional transit route Ukraine.
At the same time, it could detract from Italy's aspirations to be part of a southern gas hub.
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