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Putin Calls For Equal Partnership With Europe On Energy Issues

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Czech President Vaclav Klaus at Putin's official welcoming ceremony at Prague Castle today (epa) PRAGUE, 1 March 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today called for an equal partnership between Russia and Europe in energy issues.

Speaking to journalists in Prague, he said Russia has been and will continue to be a stable provider of oil and gas to Europe.

But he said that when he hears European countries express concern at their dependence on Russian oil and gas, they should not forget that Russia is equally dependent on its European customers. In view of this, he said, Russia may seek to diversify its export markets.

Putin's comments come in the wake of January's dispute with Ukraine over the price of Russian gas, which disrupted supplies to Central and Western Europe.

In a statement released in Moscow today, Putin called for a strategy to tackle instability in world energy markets. He said there is a real threat to global energy supplies.

The Russian president arrived in Prague this evening for talks with Czech leaders. Before his arrival, he was in Hungary.

(with additional material from news agencies)

Russia's Gas Strategy

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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