donetsk balaclava
Diplomacy between Russia and the West has been strained over the Ukraine crisisAFP

BP says it will reinstate healthy diplomatic relations between Russia and the West.

The company's chief executive Bob Dudley told shareholders that BP will use its presence in Russia to ensure that the discord between Moscow and the West doesn't deteriorate to an unworkable level.

Diplomatic tensions between the parties turned sour when Russia annexed the Crimea region in a disputed referendum last month. Recent pro-Russian protests in eastern Ukraine were denounced by Western leaders as Russian meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs.

"We will seek to pursue our business activities mindful that the mutual dependency between Russia as an energy supplier and Europe as an energy consumer has been an important source of security and engagement for both parties for many decades," Dudley said at the BP annual shareholder's meeting.

"That has got to continue and I think we play an important role as a bridge."

Of the oil majors, BP is the most exposed to Russia through its near 20% stake in the Kremlin's oil giant Rosneft.

Russia and the West have become embroiled in a geopolitical spat that began when Ukraine's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted at the end of February.

Russia reacted by annexing the Crimea region in a move condemned by the United Nations General Assembly. Washington and Brussels reacted by imposing economic sanctions on a number of individuals with close ties to the Kremlin and a Russian bank.

European and American leaders have discussed imposing deeper sanctions against Russia, targeting the financial and energy sectors.

Tensions were strained again when Russian energy giant Gazprom almost doubled the price it charges Ukraine for its gas and demanded that Kiev immediately pay $2.2bn (£1.3bn, €1.6bn) worth of outstanding gas bills.

The spat over gas prices has led to fears that supplies to Ukraine could be cut off, as they were in 2005 and 2008.

Moreover, the European Union relies on Russia for a third of its gas needs, 40% of which reaches Europe via Ukraine.

In response, European leaders have called for the bloc to decrease its reliance on Russian gas in the future, although it could take many years to secure alternative energy supplies.

More than 25% of BP's oil output worldwide comes from Russia, and more than a third of its oil and gas reserves are in the country.

Last month Dudley said BP "absolutely" stands by Russian investments.