Russian president Vladimir Putin has reportedly told a German television channel of his surprise at the negative reaction in the country to development of the Gazprom-backed North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) project.

President Putin is quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as telling German television that he was shocked, simply shocked by the fact that [politicians] in Germany, or other European countries could not see their own interests in diversifying gas transport routes across the continent.

He went on to ask the interviewer from the CDF channel, Why would you want to always depend on our transit agreements with Ukraine, or Belarus, or Poland?

Mr Putin’s comments come just ahead of the G8 summit, chaired by Russia, during which energy supply is set to be one of the key discussion points. The summit is to be held in St Petersburg from July 15-17.

It is a mutual dependency that will create normal relations on global energy markets and in the political sphere in the historical perspective, Mr Putin said, adding that German consumers were as important to Russia as gas imports are to German end users.

However many western countries have been vocal in their criticism of the Kremlin, with many concerned that natural gas monopoly Gazprom is being used as a particularly blunt instrument of Russian foreign policy.

The NEGP project has done little to dispel such fears, as the scale of the undertaking in many ways underlines the growing dependency of western Europe on Russian gas. Equally, NEGP has been attacked as a partly political creation that will give Russia easier access to lucrative western gas markets – among them the UK, Europe’s largest gas consumer – while tightening its control over its truculent neighbors in the east.

Separating out export flows to Germany and beyond could, in theory, facilitate Moscow’s attempts to dictate terms to countries such as Belarus, Ukraine and Poland.

Their fears about Moscow’s policies will hardly be eased by the Russian president’s hardline stance. RIA Novosti quoted further comments attributed to Mr Putin, where he claims that the US stoked up the controversy over Gazprom’s dealings with its neighbors on gas.

I think, and more to the point I am certain, that all the hysteria that was linked with the supplies of natural gas to Ukraine or the construction of the North European Gas Pipeline was designed to ensure American economic and political interests in Europe, he reportedly said in an interview with German television.

This could be interpreted as a riposte to US vice-president Dick Cheney, who earlier this year accused Russia of using its hydrocarbon wealth to ‘blackmail’ its neighbors.