KIEV, June 26 - President Viktor Yushchenko said Tuesday Ukraine should seek to bolster its role as a transit route for energy supplies amid ongoing efforts by the European Union to diversify its imports of energy.
"We have to mull how to bolster and to further develop our mission," Yushchenko told reporters in Istanbul, adding that Ukraine should promote "an active policy" as far supplies of energy resources are concerned.
The EU has been exploring possibilities of increasing imports of energy from the Central Asia and other sources in order to reduce dependence on energy imports from Russia.
Poland and the Czech Republic, which rely heavily on Russian crude oil, have been showing interest in building an oil supply route that would provide an alternative source of crude oil.
The route, which is to use the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline in Ukraine, would bypass Russia and provide access to the Caspian oil for Ukraine and the Central European nations.
A project to deliver alternative to Russian supplies of natural gas, such as via Georgia and Turkey, has been also considered, and Yushchenko said both projects would benefit Ukraine.
"Ukraine has a very important place and Ukraine's prospects have been growing from the point of the view that Europe's efforts of securing [alternative] energy supplies have been more active," Yushchenko said.
Yushchenko joined an international conference in Istanbul aimed at discussing energy security and increased cooperation between European nations and the Central Asia.
Ukraine, which controls a major natural gas network that channels up to 80% of Russian natural gas exports to the European Union, has been in recent years facing increased pressure from Russia in terms of energy supplies.
Russia suspended supplies of natural gas to Ukraine for four days between January 1 2006 and January 4 2006 due to a gas price dispute, while the move had affected gas supplies to the EU.
The development underscored Ukraine's vulnerability as it had been traditionally heavily dependent on Russia, its key source of natural gas and crude oil.
"This is undesirable and a very dangerous trend," Yushchenko said. "I am sure that the response must be rational."
Meanwhile, the gas supply cut-off also increased fears in Ukraine that the EU would try to build energy supply routes that would also bypass Ukraine, a move that would make the country even more vulnerable.
Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have been over the past year actively seeking of joining forces that would prevent such scenario, and Yushchenko said that now he had been more optimistic about the prospects.
"Today I am more of an optimist concerning the place that Ukraine will have on European energy map as opposed to [status quo] a year and a half ago," Yushchenko said.
Yushchenko said Ukraine has been fully backing the European Energy Chart, which calls on all countries to provide liberal and equal access to transit pipelines for independent producers of energy. Russia has been persistently refusing to join the body.
"The rules must be unified and just. Then they will become inviolable for all parties of this process," Yushchenko said. (nr/ez)