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The Times: Putin rejects EU demand to open up gas supplies

Times

Saturday 21 October 2006

From David Charter in Lahti
 
A DEFIANT President Putin defended his hardline attitude towards Georgia and his refusal to open up Russian energy supplies against a series of complaints from EU leaders over their summit dinner last night.

The Russian leader refused to sign an energy agreement with the EU that would involve greater openness from his country but pledged to work towards a longer term pact that he said would address Europe’s concerns.

In the face of strongly worded criticism over the dramatic worsening of Russian relations with Georgia, Mr Putin told the 25 European heads of government gathered in Lahti, Finland, that the problem was not of his making and insisted that he wanted to avoid bloodshed. 
 
Invited to the one-day summit dinner for an informal discussion, the Russian leader wrongfooted his hosts with opening remarks in which he challenged them to ask him anything, whether connected to their agenda of energy security or not.

This was the cue for EU leaders to confront him over Georgia and over the rise in contract killings, including the murder of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya. a leading critic of the Russian President. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, pushed Mr Putin for answers over why Western companies were being excluded from Russia’s vast energy reserves.

Over dinner Mr Putin told his hosts to have patience. “Russian law has been developing rapidly and is aimed at improving the internal climate, not worsening it. We have drawn up laws aimed at encouraging foreign investment,” he said.

Mr Putin’s performance overshadowed a one-day summit at which there were calls for Europe to develop rapidly a new basis for its energy security by building new nuclear and coal power stations to reduce the EU’s reliance on Russia. Central European nations voiced the deepest suspicions of Russia, mindful of the way that Ukraine’s gas supply was closed off briefly last January, causing panic across the region.

President Kaczynski of Poland said that Europe should develop an energy strategy that relied less on Russia, which supplies more than a fifth of the EU’s oil and gas. President Klaus of the Czech Republic said that Europe should cast aside its reluctance to develop nuclear energy. “If we ban this in Europe there is, and there will be, dependence on Russia and we cannot achieve anything. Putin is well aware that if we have no alternative his position is strong.”

Kremlin officials scrambled yesterday to play down comments by President Putin about rape allegations faced by President Katsav of Israel (Tony Halpin in Moscow writes).

Mr Putin was overheard telling Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister: “Say hello to your President. What a mighty man he turns out to be! He raped ten women. I would never have expected this from him. He surprised us all. We all envy him.” Dmitri Peskov, the deputy Kremlin spokesman, said that it was a joke.

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