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EU's Piebalgs Seeks Political Push For Nabucco Gas

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- The European Union must reduce its dependence on Russian energy supplies by accelerating the planned Nabucco pipeline to bring gas from central Asia, says the EU's energy chief.

The EU is heavily reliant on Russian gas, but it has been pushing for the $12-billion Nabucco pipeline since disputes between Russia and transit states like Ukraine highlighted the frailty of its energy supply routes.

"Our objective of diversifying our sources and routes is even more important after the events in Georgia," EU Energy Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs told reporters.

The pipeline is due to bring 30 billion cubic meters of Caspian or Middle Eastern gas annually to an Austrian gas hub via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary.

But analysts say hopes of construction are quickly fading, especially after the conflict in Georgia increased doubts about the security of investing in the turbulent region.

"We need more political engagement to remove all the obstacles to Nabucco to bring gas from the Caspian basin to the EU," said Piebalgs.

The EU has signed agreements with Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to help develop their energy supplies with a view to future imports. It is also eyeing Egypt and Iraq as possible future suppliers.

But Azerbaijan is now in talks with Russian energy giant Gazprom OAO to sell gas to Russia, throwing Azeri supplies to Nabucco into doubt.

Russia's invasion of Georgia highlighted the vulnerability of Azerbaijan's gas link to Nabucco, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE) pipeline across Georgia to Turkey.

But Piebalgs stressed the EU's continued support.

"This does not change our minds, or I think the EIB's [European Investment Bank,] that this project should be supported," he said.