Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Friday urged fellow leaders to diversify eastern Europe`s energy supply routes away from Russia and not succumb to "energy blackmail”, according to Thompson Financial.

Speaking to six other heads of state at an energy summit in Kiev, Yushchenko said his country could play a greater role as a supply route from energy-rich Caspian Sea states such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

"Ukraine has a powerful energy potential and is therefore planning to play a bigger role in shaping Eurasian energy security," he said.

Referring to claims that Russia uses its energy might for political ends, he said that "energy blackmail" and "energy pressure" had become "an almost daily occurrence in our lives."

Ukraine has been promoting a variety of gas and oil pipeline schemes intended to circumvent Russia`s long-standing monopoly on supplies across much of eastern Europe.

Attending Friday`s meeting were President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, an oil-rich country which is seeking to boost exports to Europe, and EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

Also present were the leaders of Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Yushchenko is particularly promoting a plan to use a 670-kilometre pipeline built in 2001 to pump Caspian oil from Ukraine`s Black Sea port of Odessa to Brody, a town close to the Polish border.

The oil would be shipped to Odessa from Georgia after being pumped there from the Caspian and could supply Czech, German and Ukrainian refineries, a Ukrainian foreign ministry official said earlier.

Critics of Russia point to several incidents in which Moscow has cut supplies to recalcitrant neighbours.

Russia insists it is a reliable supplier to countries that pay for energy supplies on time and at market prices.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili accused Moscow of undermining the ideal of a common European energy market.

He said Russia had turned into an "export monopolist of all energy supplies -- both its own and Central Asia`s."

Another Russia critic, Lithuania, has also accused Moscow of using its energy supplies for political gain.

Lithuania briefly vetoed the start of European Union talks with Moscow this year on agreeing an EU-Russia partnership.

Yushchenko also said earlier that Ukraine was seeking $2.5 billion from the European Union to upgrade its natural gas pipelines, which help carry Russian gas to European markets.

Friday`s summit was also to look at boosting Ukraine`s oil refining capacity and developing the nuclear sector, a sensitive subject in a country that was the site of the world`s worst nuclear catastrophe, Chernobyl, in 1986.

In addition, Yushchenko said the summit would examine the potential for developing Ukraine`s own oil and gas reserves and encouraging foreign investment in the sector.

AFX, Thompson Financial