EU and Russia try to find solution for difference on energy security

May 26, 2006 02:00 AM

The European Union and Russia said that big differences remained over energy security after a two-day summit, but they were on track to find a solution.
The leaders put on a public display of friendliness, in marked contrast to the tense atmosphere since Russian gas exports were briefly disrupted in January, triggering fear that Europe is over-dependent on Moscow’s energy. But Russian President Vladimir Putin stuck by his position that the Kremlin will only bow to European requests for greater access to Russia’s energy sector if Russian companies are allowed into European markets in exchange.

“If our European partners expect us to let them into the holy of holies of our economy, oil and gas ... then we expect that they will meet us halfway with their own measures,” Putin told in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
But he added: “The main thing is that we have the desire to reach agreement on these questions and we will reach agreement.”

Many observers say the Sochi summit is an important dress rehearsal for the July summit of the Group of Eight industrial democracies which Putin is hosting in his home city of St Petersburg.
Earlier, in a moment that encapsulated the jovial mood at the talks, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Putin shared a joke and hugged each other as they watched a treaty on visa rules being signed.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso echoed Putin’s sentiments on energy security.
“I cannot say that we agree on all issues. There are some issues where we still need further work but I think we can agree on the basic principles... on which we can build a true relationship of confidence and friendship.”

Barroso said he had raised with Putin the issues of human rights and democracy -- areas where the Kremlin is accused of backsliding. US Vice President Dick Cheney angered Russian officials earlier this month by calling on Moscow to return to the path of democratic reform and accused its leaders of using oil and gas as tools of “intimidation andblackmail” against neighbours.
“We have no taboos in our discussions,” Barroso said. “(But) I can tell you very frankly that I saw in this meeting a true spirit of openness and a trying to understand each others’ position.”

The EU is pressing Moscow to open up access to gas pipelines to European companies, while Moscow wants state-controlled gas giant Gazprom to have expansion access in Europe’s downstream distribution market. Russia’s Gazprom supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas needs.
Apart from energy issues, Putin’s drive to strengthen the Kremlin’s grip on the media, regional governors and economy has provoked Western concerns over democracy. Kremlin officials say they are trying to bring order after the chaos of the first post-Soviet decade.

However, many in the Kremlin see Gazprom as a new instrument for boosting Russia’s geopolitical influence after the loss of prestige following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. US critics have questioned whether Russia should be hosting the G8 summitat all, while EU-Russia tensions over energy have eased in recent days.
“It would be very difficult to imagine the full success of the St Petersburg G8 summit without positive results now in Sochi,” Barroso told.

Deals were signed on simplifying visa rules and making the deportation of illegal immigrants easier.
The two sides also discussed Iran, the Middle East, and how to replace a document that makes up the cornerstone of EU-Russia relations, the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which expires in 2007.

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