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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Putin meets German business community, focuses on energy

MUNICH, October 11 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's president met with members of the German business community Wednesday, touching on sensitive energy and economic issues in relations between Russia and Germany, and Europe at large. Addressing European concerns of a growing energy dependence on Russia and the reliability of its supplies, Vladimir Putin said his country will never let down its foreign partners who rely on its energy resources. Putin also promised to redirect gas from the ambitious Nord Stream pipeline being built on the Baltic Sea floor from Russia to Germany, highlighting its role as Russia's main energy partner in Europe. "They [partners] do not have to fear any form of dependence on Russia," Putin said. "Russia supplied energy resources on time in the most difficult period in the early 1990s, when its statehood was being rebuilt." Germany, which currently consumes 40 billion cubic meters of Russian gas a year, will receive an additional 50-55 billion cubic meters in the next 50-70 years from the vast Shtokman deposit in the Barents Sea, the president said. "Germany will evolve into a major consumer, as well as a major gas transit and distribution center," Putin said, and further praised Russia's long-standing business cooperation with the country, saying bilateral trade amounted to $32.9 billion at the moment, and could hit $40 billion shortly. Earlier gas supplies from Shtokman were mainly intended for the United States. But Russia's gas monopoly said Monday it will pump most of the deposit's gas to Europe. State-owned Gazprom also said it will develop the deposit on its own, a move that stunned Norway's Statoil and Norsk Hydro, France's Total, and U.S. giants Chevron and ConocoPhillips, the companies on a shortlist of contenders for the project. Putin earlier said Gazprom was not after investment in the project, but a swap for assets in Europe. He said none of the companies offered Gazprom adequate assets in exchange for a share in the deposit. But he added the monopoly will consider a role for foreign companies in the development of Shtokman and liquefying natural gas. Gazprom, which has said in turn it wants reliable consumers, has moved to buy pipeline assets in Europe and integrate its networks with the European ones, which has been met with apprehension by many countries. But Putin said Russian businessmen are not entering European markets in tanks or with Kalashnikov assault rifles. "Those who want to come to Europe are not the Red Army, they are businessmen like you are," he said. "I hope our business in Europe will be treated fairly. I hope we will not hear shouts in horror like 'The Russians are coming!'"
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