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Russian Natural-Gas Export Bill Gets Initial OK

Russia's State Duma (file photo) (AFP) June 16, 2006 -- Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has given preliminary backing to a bill that would  formalize the monopoly of state-controlled Gazprom over natural-gas exports.

The Duma passed the bill in a first reading today. Lawmakers are expected to consider the legislation in a second and third reading on June 28, before sending it on to President Vladimir Putin to sign into law.

Authors of the bill say a single "efficient operator" would protect Russia's economic interests by avoiding competition between Russian gas suppliers in foreign markets -- a scenario that could result in lower prices for Russian exports.

A number of smaller private Russian companies also export gas. Others, including Russia's giant oil producer LUKoil, have said they intend to do so.

The European Union, which depends on Gazprom for a quarter of its gas imports, has repeatedly called on Moscow to allow more competition within Russia's natural-gas market.

(Interfax, ITAR-TASS)

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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