EU should 'get rid of' Russian gas, says Top EU official

EU calls on Russia to show concrete steps of de-escalation in Ukrainian crisis instead of conflicting signals.

EU should 'get rid of' Russian gas, says Top EU official

The EU must "get rid of" Russian gas, the head of the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Speaking to a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Ursula von der Leyen criticized Russia for "weaponizing the energy issue" in its conflict with Ukraine and the EU.

Arguing that Moscow had tarnished its reputation as a credible energy supplier since Gazprom restricted natural gas supplies to Europe despite high demand, von der Leyen noted that the EU has since stepped up efforts to diversify its energy imports, securing more liquified natural gas supplies from international partners.

She also underlined that the bloc possessed enough gas reserves for the winter in case Russia disrupts the supply.

"We must diversify our energy sources, to get rid of the dependency of Russian gas, and heavily invest in renewable energy sources," she said, calling the bloc to draw lessons from the current crisis with Russia over Ukraine.

Crisis in Ukraine

Turning to the rising tensions between Russia on one side and Ukraine and the West on the other, von der Leyen said: "Ukraine today is a stronger, freer, and more sovereign country than in 2014.

"This is precisely why the Kremlin is threatening it again," she asserted.

Von der Leyen said Moscow has been sending "conflicting signals" over the past two days by announcing the withdrawal of some of its troops from border regions, even as its lawmakers voted in favor of recognizing the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine as independent.

She called on Moscow to de-escalate tensions with deeds and not just words.

Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, also addressed EU lawmakers on the issue.

He explained that EU and NATO officials were in daily contact "working at a level of intensity and quality never seen before."

Michel called on Russia to find the "courage" to choose diplomacy over conflict and warned that Moscow would have to face "massive consequences" in case of an invasion against Ukraine.

Michel, who presides over the meetings of EU leaders, also promised that EU heads of state and government would discuss the latest security developments on the margins of an upcoming EU-African Union summit starting on Thursday and would "declare their support for the Ukrainian people."

In 2014, Moscow began to support separatist forces in eastern Ukraine against the central government, a policy that it has maintained in the past seven years.

The US, with its European allies, has been warning since last November that Russia is preparing for aggression against Ukraine after having amassed over 100,000 troops and heavy equipment in and around its neighbor.

Russia has denied it is preparing to invade and accused Western countries of undermining its security through NATO's expansion towards its borders.

On Tuesday, Russia announced that some of its troops in the western and southern military districts have started returning to garrisons.

The Russian lower chamber of parliament, the State Duma, voted on the same day for the recognition of Ukraine's separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.