Alleviating Europe’s dependence on gas supplies from Russia - a problem exacerbated by the crisis in Ukraine - was the key focus as energy ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) concluded a two-day meeting in Rome.

Seeking alternative gas supplies has been on Europe’s agenda since at least 2006, when Russia and Ukraine first rowed over gas supplies.

The current fear is that escalating tensions with Kiev and Western powers may lead Moscow to again cut off gas deliveries passing through Ukraine on their way to Europe.

“The central issue is how to prevent energy from being used as a weapon in an increasingly interdependent world,” German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is representing Berlin in the talks, said.

The United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Italy resumed G7-format meetings in March, after Russia was expelled from the Group of Eight (G8) forum due to its support for separatists in Ukraine.

In Rome, there was no suggestion that Western allies would agree to further punish Moscow by applying sanctions to its energy sector.

Russia has warned that it would retaliate. Several European nations are overwhelmingly dependent on Russian gas.

Italy and Germany, which have extensive energy and business ties to Russia, have been among the most cautious on sanctions, while the United States and Britain, which have their own gas resources, are seen as hardliners.

Whereas the US has placed Igor Sechin - chief executive of Russia’s state oil company Rosneft - on a sanctions black list, Rosneft has been welcomed in Italy as a minority shareholder of tyre maker Pirelli, one of the country’s leading industries.

The Rome talks were instead expected to produce a statement which would be submitted for further discussion at a G7 summit in Brussels on June 4-5.

The document was likely to list a series of options to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas supplies, including: improving energy efficiency; exploring the possibility of bringing over to Europe shale gas from North America; and developing pipelines from the Caspian Sea.

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