Russia's oil pipeline monopoly Transneft is in talks on building a link between its routes in Germany and the Czech Republic to ensure that its exports to central Europe can bypass Ukraine if necessary, a top company official said.
Russia has traded accusations in the last few weeks with Ukraine, its western neighbour through which much of its gas and some oil exports flow, with each side accusing the other or responsibility for a shortfall in gas supplies to Europe.
Russia's Gazprom has said Ukraine is taking more gas than it is supposed to from the transit pipelines that cross its territory, suggesting that may be a reason why consumers further west along the route got less than they requested.
On Wednesday, Transneft entered the fray from the oil side, saying it needed the security of an interconnector that would provide an alternative route for crude oil flows to central Europe.
"It's just extra insurance," Transneft vice-president Mikhail Barkov told reporters in Russia's east region on a trip to inspect the final stretch of pipeline under construction to link Russia's Siberian oil fields with a Pacific port.
The Druzhba pipeline, which carries Russian export-blend crude oil to eastern and central Europe, splits into two branches in Belarus, the northern one of which goes through Poland to Germany.
The other, more southern branch crosses Ukraine bound for Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
A 300-kilometre interconnector between the Czech and German ends of the pipeline would allow Russian suppliers to deliver oil to clients on the southern branch even if flows were stopped in transit through Ukraine.
Transneft is in talks with German and Czech counterparties, Mr. Barkov said.
Europe's energy problems during this month's unusually cold weather has caused some to draw parallels with Russia's past conflicts over energy supply and transit terms with Ukraine, which resulted in cuts to European consumers in 2006 and 2009.
Before the new year, talks between Moscow and Kiev failed to yield a package deal to split control over Ukraine's gas transit system and agree to a price cut for Russia's supplies of gas to Ukraine, which are a burden on Ukraine's economy.
Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom's chief executive officer also weighed in on Ukraine-related matters on Wednesday, saying his company was working "24 hours a day" to launch the planned new South Stream pipeline to bypass Ukraine by carrying Russian gas under the Black Sea direct to European customers.
The Nord Stream pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea to connect Russia and Germany, was launched last year. Its capacity is due to double this year to 55 billion cubic metres per year.