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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Russia, Spain strengthen ties with energy pact

russiaspain03-03-2009 - (AFP)- MADRID — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wrapped up a visit Tuesday to Madrid by signing an energy cooperation pact and a deal to enable Spanish military equipment and staff to reach Afghanistan via Russia. "We have succeeded in entering a new level of cooperation. Big prospects are opening up in the fuel and energy sphere," he told a news conference with host Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero at the end of a two-day trip. Zapatero said the energy cooperation agreement, which covers oil, gas, charcoal and renewables, would lead to "greater energy security for Spain." The signing of the agreement comes little over a month since a dispute between Russia and the Ukraine left more than a dozen European countries cut off from Russian gas supplies in the midst of winter. Spain gets the bulk of its gas from Algeria and it was not affected by the dispute which left many European nations questioning Russia's reliability as an energy supplier. Russia is the world's biggest gas exporter and second-largest oil supplier, while Spain is home to several global leaders in the renewable energy sector and is one of Europe's biggest producers of wind power. Several Spanish and Russian energy firms also signed their own cooperation accords on the sidelines of the state visit, the most attention-grabbing being one between Spain's Gas Natural and Russia's state-controlled Gazprom. Under the terms of the deal the two firms may work together in the development of Russia's vast Shtokman gas field, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller told reporters in Madrid. Gazprom is currently developing the Shtokman field, one of the largest gas fields in the world, with France's Total and Norway's StatoilHydro. Russia and Spain, a member of NATO, also signed an agreement allowing the transit of military equipment and staff through Russia to Spanish troops in Afghanistan. "The realisation of this agreement will make it easier to maintain the Spanish contingent stationed in Afghanistan," said Medvedev. Moscow has signed similar agreements with several other countries, including with the United States. Russia said Tuesday it had allowed a first shipment of US equipment bound for the central Asian country to cross its territory. Russia and NATO reached the deal on transit of supplies for Afghanistan in April last year, but Russia's war against Georgia in August prevented the agreement being fully put into practice as ties deteriorated badly. Medvedev's visit to Spain is the first bilateral visit to a European country since Russia's conflict with its ex-Soviet neighbour. His programme included a state dinner hosted by Spain's King Juan Carlos, talks with business leaders and a visit to Madrid's Prado museum in addition to meetings with Zapatero. Analysts said the choice of Spain for a rare state visit by Medvedev reflects the fact that Moscow and Madrid have similar positions on several foreign policy issues. Spain is one of only five nations in the 27-member European Union which, like Russia, has not recognized the independence of Kosovo either in solidarity with Serbia or so as not to create a precedent for their own separatist areas. Zapatero has also backed a new European security pact, a proposal Medvedev unveiled last year in Berlin that has so far received a cool response among the big powers in the West.

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