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Irish Times: Russia and EU agree legally binding energy deal

Oct 21, 2006

The EU and Russia last night put aside recent disputes over energy policy and said they would work towards a legally binding energy deal based on mutual trust, writes Jamie Smyth in Lahti, Finland

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said Russian president Vladimir Putin agreed on the need not to politicise energy relations in the future.

“We should not let energy divide Europe and Russia as communism once did,” said Mr Barroso, who stressed the mutual dependency of Russia and the EU on energy issues.

Earlier this year Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine, a move that prompted energy shortages in several EU states. It has also recently blocked European energy firms from developing lucrative energy supplies in Russia.

But despite the improved relations between both sides over energy, concerns over the deteriorating political situation in Georgia and human rights in Russia hung over an EU summit in Finland yesterday, with Mr Putin warning of possible “bloodshed” and “disaster” in two pro-Russian breakaway regions of the former Soviet Union.

Mr Putin said he hoped that bloodshed would be avoided but blamed Georgia for engineering a dispute with Russia to create a precondition for military action in the breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He said the EU should not try to blame Russia for the problem, which was one of several frozen conflicts in the region.

EU leaders had earlier expressed grave concern over worsening relations between Georgia and Russia. Russia cut all ties with its neighbour earlier this month and has begun deporting ethnic Georgians amid claims it is harassing Georgian businesses in Moscow.

Finnish president Matti Vanhanen raised concerns over freedom of expression and the rule of law in Russia, where a prominent journalist and critic of the Putin regime was recently assassinated. Mr Vanhanen said the murder of Anna Politkovskaya – an expert on Chechnya – was a terrible crime that needed full investigation.

“Those responsible must be brought to justice,” he added.

Mr Putin told EU leaders that law enforcement agencies were taking all the necessary measures to find the masterminds of that crime and the killers to bring them to justice.

Earlier European Parliament president Josep Borrell warned that the EU would lose face unless it raised its human rights concerns with Mr Putin. “Europe shouldn’t trade human rights for energy,” said Mr Borrell, who added that Europe’s position as the biggest consumer of Russian gas could give it leverage in its discussions with Russia.

“There is gas flow and there is cashflow,” he said. “Russia needs cashflow, you can’t eat gas.” Most of the focus of the summit was on energy relations, particularly guaranteeing supplies of Russian oil and gas to Europe and the Kremlin’s recent aggressive stance towards EU firms such as Royal Dutch Shell and Total working in Russia.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said from an Irish perspective security of supply was vital as most of Ireland’s energy came from gas, much of its originally sourced in Russia.

Despite differences between EU states over the extent of harmonising Europe’s energy policy diplomats said EU leaders presented a united front to Mr Putin.

The EU and Russia agreed to begin negotiating a comprehensive partnership agreement covering political, economic and strategic relations.

Mr Putin said he was not opposed to including energy within the terms of this wider agreement.

Earlier the Kremlin was forced to explain publication of a joke made by Mr Putin about rape allegations against the Israeli president.

Russia’s Kommersant daily newspaper quoted Mr Putin as saying: “He turns out to be a really powerful guy! He raped 10 women!” It also quoted Putin as saying: “We all envy him.” A Russian spokesman said his attempt at humour had been lost in translation.

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