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The Guardian: EU clash on warning to Putin over gas supplies

· Compromise after France and Germany disagree
· Foreign investments must be secure, Russia told

Nicholas Watt in Lahti
Saturday October 21, 2006

Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel clashed yesterday on how to deal with Vladimir Putin as European leaders tried to hammer out a common approach on the EU’s relations with Russia.

Hours before President Putin took centre stage at an EU summit in Lahti the leaders of France and Germany disagreed on the strength of a warning to Russia after gas supplies were cut last winter.

European divisions over Russia were highlighted when the French president told the Finland summit that the EU had no choice but to deal with Mr Putin. Mr Chirac said the EU needed to recognise the pressures on Mr Putin.

Mrs Merkel, who has recently faced criticism after Germany signed a favourable gas deal with Russia, told fellow leaders that Europe should have more confidence in its relations with Mr Putin. The German chancellor said Europe was in a strong position because Mr Putin needed EU consumers to buy Russian gas.

The differences between France and Germany, who usually adopt a common approach at EU summits, highlighted acute sensitivities as Europe tries to adopt a united position in relations with its giant neighbour.

European leaders are nervous about the supply of Russian gas as winter approaches after Moscow, which provides 25% of the EU’s gas and oil imports, cut off supplies to Ukraine in January, briefly reducing flows to the EU.

Fears that the EU would be divided down the middle – with former communist countries demanding strong criticism of Russia’s track record on human rights and the likes of Germany adopting a lighter touch – proved largely unfounded.

EU diplomats stressed that the Franco-German differences were largely of tone and that the leaders eventually hammered out a common approach. This centred on delivering a warning to Mr Putin that European investments in Russia – which Moscow needs if it is to develop its oil and gas industries – must be protected.

EU leaders have been alarmed by the Kremlin’s attempts to raise questions about energy contracts signed in the 1990s by the likes of Royal Dutch Shell and Total. Moscow has also banned foreign investors from taking a stake in the development of the Shtokman gas field.

Downing Street said that Russia would lose out if it blocked investment. “Foreign investment is not going to go into Russia if there are question marks about whether that investment is going to be treated in a fair and equitable way,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

The appearance by Mr Putin at last night’s dinner marked the highlight of the one day informal summit, which was designed to speed up agreement on a common EU energy policy and to draw up plans to redirect resources to hi-tech research and development.

European leaders, who are accused of pulling their punches in their dealings with Russia, said they would register their concerns over Moscow’s treatment of Georgia and on wider human rights.

José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission, said: “It is very important to have constructive relations with Russia. But it is also important to have a frank dialogue.” and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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