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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Russia Claims to Be Reliable Energy Supplier, Europe Open for Further Cooperation

Photo from www.gettyimages.com14.03.2006 MosNews - At the International conference on energy security which opened in Moscow on Monday, March 13, Russia defended its record as a reliable energy supplier, claiming that January cuts to Ukraine with knock-on effects for the rest of Europe have been portrayed unfairly by the media and some international bodies. Alexander Medvedev, head of Gazprom's export arm, insisted that Gazprom was a commercial organization and not an arm of the Russian state. "Gazprom has been, is, and will be a guarantor of supplies of energy to Europe," Medvedev said, quoted by the British Financial Times. "Gazprom operates as a commercial organization according to international rules of commerce. What happened in . . . January did not undermine the prestige of Gazprom; on the contrary it consolidated Gazprom's prestige." He noted investors had been buying Gazprom shares heavily since Russia lifted restrictions in December on foreigners owning the 49 per cent of shares in the company not held by the state. That had lifted its market capitalization above $210 billion, surpassing that of Royal Dutch/Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil group. MosNews has reported on Monday about the international conference which gathered the representatives of state authorities, business circles, scientific and technological organizations of G8 countries, as well as from international bodies and organizations. The conference is a run-up to the meeting of G8 energy ministers and Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, which is set to start in Moscow on Thursday, March 16. The ministers will discuss ways to improve global energy security — which Russia has put at the centre of its presidency of the group of leading industrialized nations. On Friday, March 17, Barroso will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and convey fears across Europe about Russia's own reliability, after its decision to turn off gas to Ukraine resulted in sharp falls in deliveries to the EU. He will discuss with Putin a long-term EU-Russian partnership agreement, which he believes could be a "win-win" deal for both sides. Speaking at a weekend meeting of EU leaders, Barroso said: "My question is whether Russia is ready to be our credible, stable, strategic partner or not? That is the question I will put to President Putin. If this is the case, we will help to make sure we have the same approach on the European Union side." The Europeans want Russia to give access to its pipelines to other gas suppliers and for EU companies to win contracts to help open up Russian reserves. In exchange, EU officials have floated the idea of Russian companies winning access to "downstream" energy companies in the EU, giving them access to the lucrative retail end of a market serving 450 million consumers. On Monday, March 13, Lucia Montanaro-Jankovski of the European Policy Center said energy partnership with Russia had long been a key issue for the EU, and would remain so, as it meets the interests of both sides. The executive branch of the European Union expects Russia to remain the main energy partner of the EU, she said.

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