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Russian, EU Leaders Say Differences Remain In Energy Policies

From left to right: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, at the Black Sea resort of Sochi today (epa) May 25, 2006 -- Russian and European Union leaders agreed at a summit in Sochi today that they had common interests in easing their dispute over energy supplies and markets, but said differences clearly remained.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the EU has to take "reciprocal steps" if it wants more access to Russia's energy market.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said there were still "sensitivities" that needed to be addressed.

The energy disputes have hung over the relationship since January, when a brief disruption in Russian gas supplies to Western Europe amid a price dispute with Ukraine.

Europeans fear excessive energy reliance on Russia, which supplies a quarter of Europe's gas. Meanwhile, Russia seeks access to the European retail gas markets.

Russia and the EU also signed key accords on easing visa rules and deporting illegal immigrants. The documents are expected to be ratified and come into force within a year.


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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