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Medvedev To Float European Energy Security Proposal

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Finnish President Tarja Halonen hosted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Helsinki.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen hosted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Helsinki.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on a visit to Helsinki, has announced plans to release a proposal for an overhaul of European energy security, which he said has been in the works since last year.

In a keynote speech at the University of Helsinki on April 20, Medvedev also offered another glimpse of his designs for a "new European security architecture," first floated in June 2008. Citing NATO's 1999 war in Kosovo, and the former Serbian territory's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence, and the August 2008 war in Georgia, the Russian president said existing security organizations are no longer capable of guaranteeing Europe's security.

To remedy the situation Medvedev said all countries in the region, as well as NATO, the EU, OSCE, and CIS, should convene a top-level summit to hammer out a new security concept. He described the forum as "Helsinki Plus" in a reference to the 1975 Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Standing side by side with his Finnish host, President Tarja Halonen, Medvedev said on June 20 he was going to release a set of "practical proposals" for European energy cooperation and transit agreements, and provide them to the G8, G20, and "close neighbors and partners such as Finland."

Without going into a great degree of detail, Medvedev indicated Russia is intent on securing greater independence from transit countries with projects like Nord Stream and South Stream, designed to reach the EU without recourse to third-country transit.

"Such projects make up the backbone of European energy security and the availabilit y of a larger number of gas supply routes only strengthens this security," he said.

His proposals, Medvedev said, would replace the Energy Charter, promoted by the European Union and signed but never ratified by Russia. "We are not bound by the charter," Medvedev said.

The terms laid out in the Energy Charter are seen as far too intrusive by Russia, which seeks to capitalize on its status as by far the largest energy supplier for the EU. Moscow refuses to open up its pipeline system to foreign companies and generally put its energy relations with the West on a market economy footing.

On the conventional security front, Medvedev's Helsinki University speech reiterated Moscow's more specific concerns -- that the U.S. missile defense plans involving Poland and the Czech Republic be opened up for discussion to all interested parties. NATO, Medvedev said, must not increase its presence in the Baltic States.

Moscow has cultivated good ties with nonaligned Finland, praising it as a model neighbor on its western flank which it sees as being increasingly under pressure from NATO. Yesterday, Medvedev praised Finland's decades-old foreign policy tradition of balancing competing interests. He also dropped a hint the putative "Helsinki Plus" conference could, once again, be hosted by Finland.

Embattled Pipeline

Finland's pliancy will be tested by its handling of the Nord Stream pipeline-planning application. Nord Stream, in turn, is the touchstone for Russia's drive to squeeze out the middlemen from its energy exports. The project is intended to link Russia directly with Germany, and is bitterly resented by Poland and the Baltic countries. Estonia has refused to allow Nord Stream access to its waters, Sweden is skeptical, and Finland is stalling, citing the need to conduct research into the pipelin's environmental impact. Russia wants to start laying the pipes next year.

But Finland's President Halonen said on April 20 that Moscow will have to wait until June -- and it is then unlikely to learn more than the "timetable" for the Finnish investigation.

"Investigations [into the potential environmental impact of the pipeline] are still ongoing. I believe that when the prime ministers [of Finland and Russia] meet at the beginning of June, we will be able to say with greater precision what the time frame in question will look like. But I believe this won't take very long," Halonen said.

Halonen stressed that Finland will judge the project on its environmental merits alone.

Medvedev politely praised Finland's "positive attitude" in the matter, taking a swipe at the critics of Nord Stream and affirming his belief that "Europe as a whole" will benefit.

"I would like to thank Finland for its generally positive attitude and for a productive discussion of this subject," Medvedev said. "Although this project does stir up different emotions, we believe it is absolutely profitable for Europe as a whole and for individual European countries, and we intend to advance it."

Medvedev also indicated that apart from pressing for a larger number of direct access routes to Europe, Russia will also try to turn the screw on transit countries such as Ukraine and Belarus by means of offering them new "legal" arrangements, presumably aimed at limiting their room to maneuver.