By Vladimir Soldatkin
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian natural gas exporter Gazprom said on Tuesday it was fully meeting gas demand from European clients amid complaints the company had reduced flows to Europe.
Gazprom also signalled that it is willing to forge closer ties with China, to which it has agreed to start supplying gas from 2019.
"The company is fully satisfying the gas demands of its European partners," Gazprom said in a statement after a meeting of its board.
Slovakia, Poland, Romania and Austria have all reported slight declines in shipments in recent days from Russia, which is embroiled in a row with the European Union over the Ukraine crisis.
Gazprom halted gas supplies to Ukraine, through which it ships half of its gas exports to the European Union, in June citing unpaid bills.
The spat has evoked fears of a disruption in Russia supplies to Europe, as was the case during price disputes with Kiev in 2006 and 2009.
Gazprom said Ukraine must address unpaid bills of around $5.3 billion before "cooperation" can resume.
It also said the safety of Russian gas supplies to Europe depends on Ukraine honouring a transit contract, adding that the company's board had ordered management to take measures to curb risks to gas bound for Europe this autumn and winter.
Seeking to lessen its dependence on European markets over political differences, Gazprom has been looking towards Asia and China in particular.
Gazprom said the gas demand outlook for the Asia-Pacific region looks "optimistic".
"China will play the main role in the increase in gas consumption," the company said citing China's economic growth and a worsening environmental situation in the country which is expected to spur a move away from coal.
This year, Gazprom signed a landmark $400-billion deal to sell gas to China. First shipments are expected in 2019 after a new pipeline is built to ship gas from the Chayanda gas field.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Editing by Jason Neely)