The Russian Federation supplies a significant volume of fossil fuels and is the largest exporter of oil and natural gas to the European Union. In 2007, the European Union imported from Russia 185 million tonnes of crude oil, which accounted for 32.6% of total oil import, and 100.7 million tonnes of oil equivalent of natural gas, which accounted 38.7% of total gas import.
The Russian state-owned company Gazprom exports natural gas to Europe. It also controls a large number of subsidiaries, including various infrastructure assets. According to the study published by the Research Centre for East European Studies, the liberalization of the EU gas market has driven Gazprom's expansion in Europe by increasing its share in the European downstream market. It has established sale subsidiaries in many of its export markets, and has also invested in access to industrial and power generation sectors in Western and Central Europe. In addition, Gazprom has established joint ventures to build natural gas pipelines and storage depots in a number of European countries. Transneft, a Russian state-owned company responsible for the national oil pipelines, is another Russian company supplying energy to Europe.
In September 2002 the European Commission has opened formal proceedings to investigate whether Gazprom is hindering competition in Central and Eastern European gas markets, in breach of EU competition law. In particular, the Commission is looking into Gazprom's usage of ‘no resale’ clauses in supply contracts, alleged prevention of diversification of gas supplies, and imposition of unfair pricing by linking oil and gas prices in long-term contacts. The Russian Federation responded by issuing a blocking legislation, which introduced a default rule prohibiting Russian strategic firms, including Gazprom, to comply with any foreign measures or requests. Compliance is made subject to a prior permission granted by the Russian government.
In the early 1980s there were American efforts, led by the Reagan administration, to convince European countries through which a proposed Soviet gas pipeline was to be built to deny firms responsible for construction the ability to purchase supplies and parts for the pipeline and associated facilities. The pipeline was built despite these protests and the rise of large Russian gas firms such as Gazprom as well as increased Russian fossil fuel production has facilitated a large expansion in the quantity of gas supplied to the European market since the 1990s.
In 2007, 38.7% of the European Union's natural gas total imports and 24.3% of consumed natural gas originated from Russia. As of 2009, Russian natural gas was delivered to Europe through 12 pipelines, of which three were direct pipelines (to Finland, Estonia and Latvia), four through Belarus (to Lithuania and Poland) and five through Ukraine (to Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Poland). In 2011, an additional pipeline, Nord Stream (directly to Germany through the Baltic Sea), opened.
The largest importers of Russian gas in the European Union are Germany and Italy, accounting together for almost half of the EU gas imports from Russia. Other larger Russian gas importers (over 5 billion cubic meter per year) in the European Union are France, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria and Slovakia. The largest non-EU importers of Russian natural gas are Ukraine, Turkey and Belarus.
According to the European Commission, the share of Russian natural gas in the member states' domestic gas consumption in 2007 was the following:
The shares of Russian natural gas in the domestic gas consumption in non-EU countries in Europe were in 2006:
At the same time, the variety of national policies and stances of larger exporters versus larger dependents of Russian gas, together with the segmentation of the European gas market, has become a prominent issue in European politics toward Russia, with significant geopolitical implications for economic and political ties between the EU and Russia. These ties have occasionally led to calls for greater European energy diversity, although such efforts are complicated by the fact that many European customers have long term legal contracts for gas deliveries despite the disputes, most of which stretch beyond 2025–2030.
A number of disputes in which Russia was using pipeline shutdowns in what was described as "tool for intimidation and blackmail" caused European Union to significantly increase efforts to diversify its energy sources.
Part of the aim of the Energy Union is to diversify the EU’s gas supplies away from Russia, which has already proved to be an unreliable partner, first in 2006 and then in 2009, and which threatened to become one again at the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine in 2013-2014.