EU, Russia fail to reach agreement at summit

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, May 27 -- The recent European Union-Russia summit in the Siberian city of Khabarovsk failed to patch up relations soured by the 2008 war with Georgia and the January gas dispute with Ukraine that left many European countries without Russian gas in bitterly cold weather.

EU participants tried to put a brave face on the failed negotiations by saying the discussions were "useful." But relations seem to have worsened as Russia President Dimitry Medvedev grew increasingly uncooperative as he blamed Ukraine—the transit country for most of Russia's gas to Europe—as solely responsible for the supply interruption.

At the closing press conference he questioned whether Ukraine could pay for Russian gas this year. It was a pricing dispute with Ukraine that caused Russia to interrupt gas exports to Europe in January. Medvedev insisted it is up to the EU to assume part of the Ukraine financing, as he expressed reluctance to "extend loans to Ukraine."

He said Russia cannot guarantee gas supplies to the EU will not be cut next year, although EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso asked Russia and Ukraine to do everything in their power to prevent another crisis.

Medvedev also said Russia has no intention of adopting the European energy charter, signed in 1994 by 51 countries including Russia, which has never ratified it. He said the charter is now "outdated." Russia's suggestion of a revised charter was rejected by Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

The old charter should prevail, insisted EU officials, until a wide-ranging energy partnership and cooperation agreement, which expired in December 2007, is signed with Moscow. At the summit there was no agreement on the early warning mechanism the EU wants to warn of any threat to gas supplies.

One possible cause of the bickering is the proposed Eastern partnership the EU is offering Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in the form of free trade agreements and easier visa rules as well as political reform. Medvedev views such a partnership as a means of encircling Russia, despite the EU's denials of such an intention.

Whatever the reasons, Russia and the EU have moved away from the compromise necessary for their mutual dependence: Russia provides more than 25% of gas consumed by the EU, which in turn is Russia's most profitable gas market.

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