|INFORMAL DISCUSSION OF SERIOUS
QUESTIONS IN LAHTI
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Boris Kaimakov)
The October 20 dinner of the European Union countries’ heads of state
and government in Lahti, Finland, which Russian President Vladimir Putin
will attend, will be an informal occasion. But Europe and the Kremlin
regard it very seriously, because the European leaders will discuss energy
The Kremlin has clearly indicated that it is prepared to respect
international agreements on energy issues. And some observers say Moscow
has lost the dispute with the international consortium of the Sakhalin II
oil and gas project.
Less than a month ago, top Russian officials said the production sharing
agreement, under which the project is being developed, did not correspond
to new realities in Russia. The issue has now been removed from the
Viktor Khristenko, Russia’s minister of industry and energy, has
actually disavowed criticism of project operator Sakhalin Energy, saying
that there are no reasons for revising its license. At the same time, the
parties have reached a compromise allowing Gazprom to increase its share
in the project.
Assets are a crucial economic element, but political decisions also have
their part to play. The Kremlin acted wisely by taking a step toward
Western investors, although they were waging an information attack against
Russia. This removed speculations about the risks of investing in the
Russian energy sector.
Putin will now be able to address more important issues in Lahti, rather
than try to ward off the attacks of his Western colleagues with regard to
According to the official European Union website, “After their informal
meeting, the EU Heads of State or Government will be joined for dinner by
the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Discussion during the dinner will
focus on the development of the strategic partnership between the EU and
Russia, including cooperation in energy issues.”
Europe clearly views Russia as the main energy partner, and wants to
formulate new principles of energy cooperation with the Kremlin, which it
describes as a strategic partnership. The wording shows that there is no
energy alternative to Russia, as the Finnish spokesman in the European
Parliament has said the other day. Indeed, 25% of oil and gas delivered to
Europe comes from Russia.
The EU leadership has clearly indicated that any arguments against
inviting Putin to the Lahti summit are not serious. Russia is Europe’s
economic and political partner, and is indispensable for addressing
crucial European issues.
But this does not mean that Putin will have a comfortable evening in Lahti.
The EU claims the role of Russia’s main negotiating partner and wants
the Kremlin to revise its energy policy. In other words, it wants to
remind Moscow that it will not be dealing with individual countries, but
with the European Union as a whole.
However, the EU is not prepared for this form of cooperation, since its
individual members pursue different interests in energy relations with
Russia. For example, the German chancellor has been accused of ignoring
the energy interests of the other EU countries. It is logical therefore
that the European leaders want the final protocol in Lahti to include a
phrase about the coherent internal and external aspects of energy policy
as a crucial goal of the European Union.
Fearing that Russia’s financial strength may allow it to act more
forcefully on Europe’s domestic markets, the EU intends to overhaul its
energy infrastructure, in particular create specialized banks and invest
hugely in energy production and distribution.
There are serious arguments in favor of Russian involvement in such
projects. If we agree that Russia is rapidly building a market economy, we
must also agree that deliberate efforts to hinder its advance to European
markets are out of time and place. Putin convincingly allayed Europe’s
fears that such advance would make it more dependent on Moscow during a
meeting with Bavarian businessmen in Munich.
He said clearly that there were no reasons to fear the advance of Russian
capital, and that dependence was mutual, because Russia needs Western
investments and its economic prosperity largely depends on Western energy
This is why serious analysts do not think the Kremlin will use the gas
argument for attaining political objectives. -0-