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European Summit: Putin – nay-sayer or placator?

  • October 21st, 2006
  • Posted by 7thmin

lahti-pic-reduced.jpgThe 25 EU heads of government were called together – at Lahti, in Finland, 20.10.06- to sanction a large-scale, and expensive renovation of European research and technology, and set the parameters for a European-wide energy system.

Senior European officials had been reminding journalists of the extent of Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy; it provides 25% of EU oil and gas; so a neighbourly call from President Vladimir Putin became the highlight of the one-day event.

Putin heard that Europe wanted more open access for business and investors on both sides to participate in the energy industries, in Russia and the EU – gas and petroleum, pipelines and the electricity system.

He was asked for guarantees of future supplies to Europe, and was urged specifically to finally ratify an Energy Accord, written to assure the engagement of Western companies in Russia’s market, and protect their investments.

The EU leaders had been worried over moves by Russia to use its economic position as a bargaining tool, restricting the operations of Western companies in its territory, and last Winter holding back gas supplies in its dispute with the Ukraine over prices.

In this joint approach they had put aside differences over moves by some of their members, not least Germany, to make separate, bilateral agreements with Russian.

President Putin told a media conference later he agreed with them that business agreements should not be treated a part of international politics, and acknowledged the two sides were mutually dependent in the energy trade.

That is where the concessions stopped.

He insisted that outside investors were satisfied with their access to Russian markets, and urged his Western counterparts to be patient over the Energy Accord: he was content with the principles but considered some of its provisions “should be better defined.”

None would have expected an overnight conversion.

The Europeans emerged with a single public stance on their trade with Russia, and firm recognition of the priority it had to be given in resolving the urgent energy needs of the European sub-continent.

Putin in the meantime generated much stronger reaction when commenting on Russia’s recent disputes with Georgia, over the detention of Russian officers charged with espionage.

He accused the Georgian leadership of deliberately aggravating bad feeling and hoped “bloodshed” would be avoided.

Picture: Summit venue at Lahti, in Finland