Russia and the European Commission approved Tuesday a new rapid alert mechanism to deal with supply or demand crises, a key issue ahead of an EU-Russia summit next week.

The mechanism -- part of an eighth progress report on the "EU-Russia energy dialogue" -- sets up a hotline system for contact in case of crises and obliges Brussels and Moscow to inform each other of potential problems. Russian Energy Minister Victor Khristenko, whose country provides about 25 percent of oil and gas deliveries to the 27-nation EU, said enhanced energy communication would involve two tracks.

"The first phase involves the means for exchanging information and consulting on issues of a strategic nature, whether it be new legislation, new elements of energy strategy, or significant changes in supply or demand trends," he said after talks with EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

"The second part of this mechanism is more operative and involves exchanges on significant issues which could conceivably give rise to difficulties with either supply or demand," he said, referring to the rapid alert system. The need for the mechanism became apparent after oil supplies to some European countries were hit in December and January because of an energy dispute between Russia and Belarus. That came a year after Russian energy monopoly Gazprom cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine, through which gas transits to the EU, causing some disruptions in the bloc.

An EU energy spokesman said the rapid alert mechanism nominates one person as a point of contact in the Commission, the union's executive body, and one in Russia's energy ministry who can be reached 24 hours a day if needed. It also contains "obligations to inform each other in case of emergency," he said.

EU and Russian leaders meet in Portugal on October 26.


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