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TVNZ: ‘No taboo topics’ at Russia-EU talks

Pres. Putin

Oct 19, 2006

Russian President Vladimir Putin is open to hear European concerns about Russia’s reliability as an energy supplier and any other thorny issues when he meets EU leaders this week, a Kremlin source said on Wednesday.

“There are no taboo subjects,” the source said two days before Putin travels to Finland where he will join EU leaders for a dinner at the end of their summit.

Some EU governments worry that Russia – which supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas needs – uses its energy resources as a political weapon. They also want the Kremlin to open up its jealously-guarded energy sector to European companies.

The source said concerns about energy were “natural” and that Putin was ready to address them. Friday’s dinner will be the first time a Russian leader has taken part in an EU summit in this format.

“It is clear that … the EU and EU member states will be interested in the question of the development of energy in Russia, in the investment climate in the energy sector, in the format for cooperation with foreign capital.”

“We expect that it will be the traditional good atmosphere with an opportunity for discussion even on those subjects where we have differences with the EU,” the source told Reuters.

EU foreign ministers this week urged Russia to ease sanctions on its ex-Soviet neighbour Georgia, a campaign causing growing international unease. Russia says it suspects Tbilisi is planning military action against Georgian breakaway regions.

The source said unlike energy, Georgia was not on the agenda for the dinner. But he added: “If the question is raised of course there will be an answer. We do not back away from our position on that problem.”

The dinner, in the Finnish town of Lahti, was likely to last about three hours, said the source.

He said the Kremlin anticipated questions about the huge Shtokman natural gas project and the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project, operated by Royal Dutch Shell .

In a dramatic U-turn, Russia said this month it will develop Shtokman without foreign capital. But it also pleased European energy markets by announcing it will send more of Shtokman’s gas to Europe than originally planned.

Russia’s state environmental watchdog has threatened to withdraw Shell’s permit for Sakhalin-2 over alleged violations. The threat is widely seen as part of a broader drive to limit foreign participation in big energy projects.

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