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Schroeder To Lead Baltic Pipeline Consortium --> Gerhard Schroeder (left) with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller at a Moscow press conference today (epa) March 30, 2006 -- Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was today appointed chairman of the consortium building a natural-gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

In Moscow, Gazprom chief executive Aleksei Miller announced the appointment at the inaugural meeting of the Russian-German consortium.

"Representatives of each company in the committee of shareholders were appointed today, and Mr. Schroeder was elected chairman of the committee of shareholders [of the company that will build the North European Gas Pipeline]," Miller said.

Schroeder joined executives from the Russian and German energy giants Gazprom, BASF, and E.On in Moscow for the meeting. He will receive an annual salary of 250,000 euros ($300,000).

Schroeder's nomination has provoked a storm of criticism in Germany over his alleged use of his official position for personal gain.

Construction of the Baltic pipeline started in September to link Russia's vast gas reserves with the German market. Russia's Gazprom has a 51 percent stake in the consortium, while German groups BASF and E.On hold 24.5 percent each.

Russia's Gas Strategy

RUNNING HOT AND COLD The crisis over Russian supplies of natural gas to Ukraine that erupted on New Year's Day has implications that spread well beyond these two countries and will impact both economic and political policymaking throughout Europe. On January 19, RFE/RL's Washington, D.C., office hosted a briefing the examined the ramifications of the natural-gas conflict.

CLIFFORD GADDY, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, outlined Russia's "grand energy strategy," in which Ukraine is perceived as merely an obstacle frustrating Russia's energy ambitions in Western Europe and therefore a nonentity in Russia's broader strategic planning. According to Gaddy, Russia's strategic goal regarding energy is to maximize the role of its own energy resources in the world energy markets, so as to increase its geopolitical influence. To do this, it must reduce competition and maximize dependency on its own energy resources, as well as ensure a stable supply.

TARAS KUZIO, a visiting assistant professor at George Washington University, rebutted Gaddy's argument, claiming that Russia's actions evidenced a complete lack of geopolitical strategy and resulted in strong denunciations by Western countries and a loss of political allies in Ukraine. According to Kuzio, Russian President Vladimir Putin's desire to have a deal signed by the January 4 European Union energy summit outweighed his hope of reinforcing opposition to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko during the run-up to Ukraine's March 26 parliamentary elections.

RFE/RL Coordinator of Corruption Studies ROMAN KUPCHINSKY did not fully agree with Kuzio's assessments of Yushchenko or Ukraine. He outlined three major problems that are feeding the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The biggest, he argues, is that the state-controlled Russian gas giant Gazprom holds a monopoly on natural-gas sales outside the CIS. Kupchinsky also decried Ukraine's consumption of natural gas, terming it "out of control." Corruption is also a major factor in the conflict, Kupchinsky said, although the extent to which it taints the deal struck between Russia and Ukraine remains unknown.


Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 90 minutes):
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Moscow's New Energy Strategy

Moscow And Energy Leverage

Russia's New Imperialism

Who's Afraid Of Gazprom? Controlling Gas Pipelines