* Nord Stream 2 would double existing pipeline capacity
* Putin says Ukraine could remain a gas transit route
* Ex-communist European states want less reliance on Russian
(Adds detail, quotes)
By Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW, March 22 Russian President Vladimir
Putin said on Wednesday the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was
purely economic and not directed against other countries, as he
met the head of German chemicals group BASF, a
potential partner in the project.
Moscow wants to double the capacity of the existing Nord
Stream pipeline, which runs on the Baltic seabed to Germany, in
order to bypass Ukraine, a transit route for Russian gas to
However, those plans were met with scepticism in Europe,
especially among former communist countries such as Poland,
which have been trying to wean themselves off energy supplies
from their former Soviet overlord.
"I know that you support the expansion of the project (Nord
Stream), which is of a purely economic nature," Putin told BASF
Chairman Kurt Bock at a meeting in the Kremlin.
Russia's Gazprom has formed a consortium with BASF
and other companies for the new pipeline, which some European
governments say risks increasing reliance on gas from Russia,
benefiting Germany but undermining EU unity on energy issues.
Earlier this month, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe
Vestager said Nord Stream 2 was not a "project of common
interest" to the European Union.
"I want to stress that the project is not aimed against any
of our partners," Putin said, adding that Russia was ready to
use Ukraine as a gas transit country.
Bock told the Russian leader he hoped Nord Stream 2 would
succeed, adding that the project's rationale was rising gas
consumption in Europe.
He echoed comments from Wintershall, of which BASF is the
parent company. Earlier on Wednesday, Wintershall Chief
Executive Mario Mehren said the company was still looking for
ways to support Nord Stream 2 after opposition by Poland last
year prompted it to withdraw from the plan.
Nord Stream 2, initially scheduled to open in 2019, was
meant to double the amount of gas shipped directly from Russia
to Germany to 110 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year. This
compares to the record-high 179.3 bcm that Russia supplied to
Europe and Turkey last year.
Gazprom was also partnered in Nord Stream 2 by Uniper
, Shell, OMV and Engie.
The shareholder deal was scrapped late last year after protests
Gazprom's deputy chief executive, Alexander Medvedev, told
Reuters in January that the company was on track with plans for
Nord Stream 2 and expected to receive financing this year from
its European partners.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Dale Hudson)