Testy exchanges between Putin and EU leaders over energy policies

Sat, Dec 22, 2012, 00:00

Russian president Vladimir Putin and EU leaders failed to narrow wide differences on Syria, immigration and a string of other issues at a summit yesterday marked by testy exchanges over their biggest bone of contention: energy policy.

At the close of hours of talks, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso gave Mr Putin a public lecture defending the bloc’s energy regulation, and the Russian leader responded by telling him he was “emotional” and “wrong”.

Analysts had warned there was little chance the meeting – held on Mr Putin’s first visit to Brussels since his re-election in May – would make progress on the core issue of energy, which has long poisoned relations between the 27-nation bloc and Russia.

Russia is infuriated by EU efforts to liberalise its energy market and force dominant suppliers such as state-dominated Gazprom to sell off infrastructure to prevent them also controlling the distribution network. Early yesterday, during the 30th in a long series of twice-yearly meetings, Mr Putin referred to EU energy law as “uncivilised”.

“Of course the EU has the right to take any decisions, but as I have mentioned . . . we are stunned by the fact that this decision is given retroactive force,” Mr Putin said, referring to the fact the regulations apply to existing pipelines.

Respecting agreements

At the closing press conference, Mr Barroso said the EU was “respecting all international agreements and also the principles and rule of law”.

Mr Barroso declared the press conference finished but Mr Putin called back the audience to ensure he had the last word. Referring to Mr Barroso as “my good old friend”, Mr Putin said “he is so emotional because he knows he is wrong”.

Europe relies on Russia, which sits on the world’s biggest gas reserves, for about a quarter of its natural gas needs.

Over the past decade, disputes between Moscow and its ex-Soviet neighbours – Ukraine and Belarus – have disrupted its gas exports. This has increased the EU’s resolve to diversify supply away from Russia.

Russia has been building pipelines to bypass Ukraine as a transit nation, while pushing Kiev to cede control of its pipeline network. On Thursday, Mr Putin criticised Ukraine for failing to strike a compromise deal over gas supplies.

The European Commission chose the day of the EU-Russia summit to announce it was giving an extra €68 million to Ukraine, including €45 million to reform its energy market. – (Reuters)