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Outcry as Oil from Russia Stops Again

  • January 21st, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

putin-ec.jpgRussia’s Vladimir Putin gave a jolt to European leaders as they prepared a package to reduce their dependence on outside oil supplies, by cutting off the flow through neighbouring Belarus.

The short-lived interruption came on 8.1.07, less than two days before the announcement of the European Union’s grand plan on energy.

Heads of the EU countries and their Brussels-based executive entered a ritual panic as news arrived that it had happened again.

Last Winter because of a prices dispute with Ukraine, Russian supplies to Europe through that country were cut off.

This time the government of Belarus, in dispute with Russia over price, imposed a tariff on Russian oil and, when its supplies were denied, began siphoning off some of the flow in the Friendship Pipeline going to Germany and Poland. The flow was stopped forthwith.

EU leaders are highly sensitive about depending on Russia for 20-25% of their oil and gas supplies, and acutely aware of the way that anxiety builds up within industry, and general public, at the prospect of Winter blackouts.

The European Commission declared it would expedite its plans for reducing its dependence on imports.

Heading the present German Presidency of the European Union, Chancellor Angela Merkel told a media conference (on 9.1.07), Russia had not consulted its European customers on its action, and that had damaged trust.

She told the Times newspaper that her EU Presidency would emphasise improving energy security and a stronger line against Russia was likely.

She would speak personally about it with President Putin later this month.

The next day the European Commission announced its energy package, declaring plans for more independence, with an efficiency and sustainability drive, reduced carbon emissions, and more use of home-grown fuels, including energy crops and clean air sources.

Heads of the European Union attempted to have it out with President Putin over energy when he visited their summit meeting at Lahti in Finland, lat October.

He agreed then that economic levers should not be used in international power games, but was unforthcoming about signing off on a charter that would bind his country to a close integration with Europe in the energy industry. (See EUAustralia, 21.10.06, “European Summit: Putin – Nay-sayer or Placator?”).

In the stand-off this month, the European Energy Commissioner, Andris Pielbags, and the German Economics and Technology Minister, Michael Glos, wrote to the Russian government (11.1.07) to demand that future relations be handled in the framework of international treaties.

At the same time the EU Oil Supply Group, made up of officials and national experts from the oil industry, met to discuss possible emergency measures, and heard from Belarus and Russian officials who attended to give information.

Reference:

“Energy Commissioner Piebalgs and German Minister … address a letter to Russian and Belarusian authorities”, EC Brussels, 11.1.07; IP/07/35

“The EU agrees on a joint action to tackle disruptions in oil supplies from Russia”, EC Brussels, 11.1.07; IP/07/34

“Russians turn off Europe’s oil supply”, The Times, London, 9.1.07, p 1

“Putin considers diverting oil routes away from Belarus”, The International Herald Tribune, Paris, 10.1.07, p 1

Picture: Vladimir Putin, previous EU consultations, EC Audiovisual

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