Speaking in Brussels at a high-profile event gathering many representatives of major European energy companies and federations, Shmatko called for "equal treatment" by the European Commission of all planned gas pipeline projects.
In particular, Russia would like the Gazprom-sponsored South Stream gas pipeline to receive the same level of EU support as Nabucco, a pipeline project designed to bring gas to Europe from sources other than Russia.
Shmatko stated that the EU was conducting an "excessive" policy of diversifying its gas supply sources, which in his words would result in higher prices for European consumers. Conveying the message that Moscow could lose patience with Brussels, he said that his country was eager to "diversify" its own gas sales and was taking a growing interest in Asian markets.
However, he added that he still hoped a balance could be found in relations with the EU, "between freedom of choice and cost efficiency".
In the gas sphere, there is a backlog of problems, but also a need to learn to listen to each other and to speak the same language, Shmatko said, speaking in Russian.
Russian diplomats have been publicly complaining of negative stereotypes in Brussels, where Moscow is largely seen as willing to use energy as a political tool vis-à-vis individual EU countries.
At a public event on EU energy policies held recently, a diplomat from the Russian Permanent Representation to the EU said he had counted the word 'Russia' being mentioned two dozen times by different speakers, most of the time in a negative context.
Shmatko said he had proposed to Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger that Moscow and Brussels should establish a joint body to help alleviate this negative bias.
He described the project as a permanent platform between governments, involving corporate businesses, which would deal with gas statistics, analytical studies and drawing up common recommendations on energy policy.
Asked by EurActiv to elaborate, Shmatko said he saw this in the form of a joint centre in which experts from both sides would help better prepare political dialogue and contacts at different levels. He said he had already received Oettinger's positive reaction to the initiative.
Shmatko also spoke of the need for a "media strategy" in the field of EU-Russia relations, "so that the European and Russian public could be better informed". However, he did not elaborate.
'Ups and downs'
"We have ups and downs in our relations," Oettinger recognised, speaking after Shmatko. He said the EU and Russia had "different interests which cannot always be brought to a common denominator".
However, this should not be seen as an obstacle to forging a close partnership and cooperating, the commissioner added.
Oettinger confirmed that next February, under the Hungarian EU Presidency, EU heads of state and government will hold a special summit on energy, at which the external dimension of EU energy policy would be an obvious topic.
The Russian Federation is the EU's most important energy partner, Oettinger said. He specified that the bloc sourced 30% of its gas imports from Russia, 27% of its crude imports and 24% of its coal imports. A large proportion of the uranium in the EU is imported from Russia, he added.
Similarly, the EU is Russia's largest trading partner. 47% of all Russia's trade imports come from the EU and about 75% of foreign investment in the country comes from European investors, Oettinger said.
'No alternative' to Russia
"The EU's domestic gas resources are depleting and Brussels expects an increase of gas imports until 2030. There is no alternative to further strengthening relations and thinking jointly about strategies for next decades," Oettinger said.
The commissioner further argued that the EU, which was putting together a common understanding of an energy roadmap for Europe until 2050, needed better information about Moscow's strategies.
"For the EU, it is important to know what Russia's production capacities for oil and gas for the next decades will be. Will the investment climate be attractive to European investors?" Oettinger asked, speaking in English.
The commissioner was rather categorical in stating that the present legal basis of EU-Russia relations, a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed in 1994, no longer meets the needs of the current level of relations, especially in the energy sector.
"We should therefore include into the new agreement which is currently being negotiated between the Russian Federation and the EU a strong and comprehensive energy chapter, which goes beyond the provisions of the current agreement. A first step would be the accession of the Russian Federation to the World Trade Organisation, which will become a reality very soon," Oettinger said.
The recently agreed EU-Russia Partnership for Modernisation will be a framework to promote concrete energy projects between the EU and the Russian Federation, Oettinger said.
The Partnership for Modernisation is a shared agenda which the EU hopes will bring about reform in the fields of the economy and society in Russia, with due respect for democracy and the rule of law. Its priority areas include for instance the alignment of technical standards, the promotion of a sustainable low-carbon economy and dialogue with civil society.
Oettinger also welcomed the early warning mechanism established in early 2009 to avoid disruptions of gas supplies, like the one in January 2009 over a payment dispute between Moscow and Kyiv. He said the mechanism had proved to be helpful in June this year, when Belarus stopped gas flows to Lithuania, Poland and Germany following a payment dispute with Russia.
The energy commissioner also hailed the first steps towards introducing transparent and market-based relations between producers, transit countries and consumers, citing the recent 'legitimisation' of a Polish-Russian gas treaty as a step in the right direction.
Oettinger also named a more recent request by the Commission for Bulgaria to change a 2008 bilateral agreement with Russia on building the Bulgarian section of South Stream as an example of the policy the EU executive was determined to follow.
"New pipelines are welcome. We are ready to combine our different interests – the investment decision for pipelines with the Third Energy Package of the internal market, meaning competition and unbundling," Oettinger said.
Asked if the EU would give South Stream the priority project status under the Trans European Networks initiative, he said:
"South Stream is a project of major importance, maybe 65 bcm [billion cubic metres of annual capacity when fully operational] and we are in a moderation of this project. My interest is not to block it, but to combine it with European regulation. Today South Stream is maybe in competition with Nabucco, but in the long term, maybe we need both," he said.