Guenther Oettinger
European commissioner for energy Gunther Oettinger said a diplomatic solution to Ukraine crisis is needed. Reuters

The European Union's energy commissioner said the bloc wants to boost the levels of gas in storage facilities and diffuse the Ukraine-Russia standoff before the winter months.

Guenther Oettinger told a German television station that it was important to increase diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis before the winter, to ensure gas supplies for the EU and Ukraine.

The bloc relies on Russia for around a third of its gas needs, half of which is delivered through Ukrainian pipelines.

Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom halted gas deliveries to Ukraine in June after Kiev refused to pay an inflated price for gas. The company hiked the price after Moscow annexed the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in March.

"We need a solution that prevents an escalation between Ukraine and Russia," Oettinger said. "We need Ukraine as a transit country. Ukraine needs gas in winter. In a long and cold winter, Ukraine will not have enough stored gas of its own," Oettinger added.

Russia, Ukraine and the EU are set for three-way talks in a bid to resolve the long-running price dispute on 29 August.

While Ukraine may be tempted to siphon off Russian gas bound for Europe, Oettinger said, the bloc would take extra precautions ahead of the European winter.

"We are getting ready. We have a daily debate – how can we fill those storage facilities," he said.

Previous disputes between Ukraine and Russia over gas prices and transit led Moscow to shut off gas supplies to Kiev at the height of the winter in 2006 and 2009.