KYIV, UKRAINE (AFP) - Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi accused Russia's Gazprom on Thursday (June 16) of peddling "lies" over why it reduced gas supplies to his country and others.
"The reasons for the supply cuts... we are told, are technical," he told a news conference in Kyiv, after Gazprom reduced supplies to Italy's Eni and to Germany via the Nord Stream pipeline.
"We and Germany and others believe that these are lies."
Russia stepped up the energy pressure on Europe this week as tensions raged with the West over Ukraine, slashing gas supplies to the continent in a move blasted as "political" by Germany.
Several European countries, including Italy and Germany, are highly reliant upon Russian gas for their energy needs.
Italian energy giant Eni said Thursday it would receive only 65 per cent of the gas requested in a second day of reduced supply.
Draghi said state-owned Gazprom - which has said Moscow has every right to play by its own rules over the cuts - was using the gas supply for "political" ends.
"We are seeing a political use of gas, just as we have seen a political use of wheat," he said in reference to the millions of tons of wheat currently stuck in Ukrainian ports.
Italy has been seeking to reduce its reliance on Russian gas by seeking alternative sources, while also promising to invest more in renewables.
The gas squeeze "has consequences, not immediately on consumption, but on stockpiling", Draghi said.
Italy had been filling its gas reserves "quite rapidly", and was "already at 52 per cent of stockpile levels".
But the reduction in supply has pushed prices up, which will inevitably make stockpiling "more difficult", he said.
With Gazprom providing less gas at higher prices, "Europe is in greater difficulty and Russia is cashing in exactly the same as before, if not more," Draghi said.
"This is a (Russian) strategy that... must be faced and fought."