EU turns up heat in Russia energy debate

May 26, 2006 02:00 AM

The EU is preparing for a standoff with Russian president Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s energy policy.
José Manuel Barroso, European commission president, Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, will be on the beach resort of Sochi for talks. But the tranquil backdrop is expected to be the setting for loaded exchanges as Moscow and Brussels confront weighty questions over energy.

The summit is the first since Gazprom, Russia’s gas monopoly cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in a pricing dispute in January. The EU, which gets about 25 % of its oil and gas from Russia, wants guarantees that Moscow will not allow politics to disrupt supplies again. It wants Moscow to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty, signed in Lisbon in 1994, which would effectively break up Gazprom’s export pipeline monopoly.
“It would be excellent if Russia seized the moment, as president of the G8, to move towards ratification of the Energy Charter Treaty,” said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European external affairs commissioner. “This will create a win-win energy relationship for the EU and Russia.”

But Russia wants Brussels to guarantee stable demand for its oil and gas and has repeatedly threatened to seek alternative markets in Asia. It refuses to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty in its current form and has been angered by talk in the EU of blocking Gazprom from buying energy assets.
“This is a two way street,” a European commission spokeswoman hit back earlier. “The EU is not just a customer for Russia -- it is the customer for Russia. We account for 75 % of Russian gas exports.”

Viktor Khristenko, the Russian energy minister, wrote to EU officials, insisting that there was “no reason to doubt” Russia’s commitment to supply it with energy.
The EU is also expected to sign a deal on Russian visas at the Sochi gathering. The move would make it easier for Russians to get EU visas, and for the EU to send back illegal migrants from Russia.

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