Push for energy hub in SE Europe
Leaders of ten South European countries are pushing strongly for their region to unite and become an energy hub, linking Russia and the rest of Europe. A motion adopted at the Balkan Energy Summit in Zagreb promotes deeper co-operation over energy.
“For the countries that emerged from former Yugoslavia, the harmonisation of energy strategies and the linking of transportation systems has not only an economic, but also a political, and, I should also say, a human value,” Stjepan Mesic, Croatia's President, said.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who attended the summit as a special guest of the Croatian President, repeated his country's view that energy can't be used as a political tool.
“Russia has traditionally been a reliable partner of the states of south-eastern Europe in this field. The important direction of co-operation is synchronising energy systems of Western, Central and Southern Europe with the energy systems of CIS countries and Baltic states. Its achievement will allow set up the Black Sea electric power ring which will join all European countries located in the region of the Black Sea. Besides, it will help to set up the main standards of common energy market. I would like to underline that our electric power companies are ready to talk in detail about their participation in privatisation and the modernisation of generating supplies of the region's countries,” Vladimir Putin said.
“We are convinced that the way to further build our contacts in the energy field is strengthening trusting relationship. Transparency, the rule of law, absence of any discrimination, open markets and, certainly, readiness to strive for one's national interests are necessary for that. The Russian economy is developing so intensively that we can already solve large-scale social and infrastructure issues. By the way, the condition and prospects of the Russian economy were fully analysed and given appreciation at the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg which was attended by the representatives of more than 60 countries. You know that the Russian economy is growing by 6.9% annually. Its growth during the past four months of this year is 7.7% and 1.6% fall to a share of energy. The others are provided by human services, building, mechanical engineering and chemical industry. These facts are convincing of the consistency and steadiness of our development. And I suppose that it is only the beginning of the country's development which is very optimistic. I believe that the co-operation with your region, with Europe as a whole, will only increase future progress,” he added.
For Mr Putin the summit became an opportunity to discuss other issues affecting the region. According to Russian officials, Putin's main goal in Zagreb was to hear what the Balkan countries have to say about the Kosovo issue.
“I hope we will use today's meeting to discuss the region's problems, including the Kosovo problem,” Vladimir Putin noted.
A few days ago Russia rejected yet another UN proposal paving the way for supervised independence of Kosovo. The move was welcomed in Belgrade and harshly criticised in Pristina. But Vladimir Putin says Russia is not taking sides.
“You know what our position on the Kosovo problem is. I had an opportunity today to talk on this issue with my Albanian colleague. Our position and all our actions are directed at creating in the region the conditions for stability based on international law when the interests of all parties concerned are taken into account. Our position is not dictated either by religious considerations or ethnic ones, or historical ones. It is dictated by the principles of the international law and the desire to look into the future, the desire to create stable relations for the development of our countries and the region,” he stressed.
Artyom Ulunyan, a political analyst from the Institute of World History in Moscow, says there will not be a breakthrough in this problem as all the participants of the Summit have their own understanding of the Kosovo problem.
“They have different approaches because, for example, the European countries are interested in the resolving this problem as much as possible and as quickly as possible. And the Balkan countries are very resistant to the quick decision on this problem,” he believes.
Croatia was among the first Yugoslav republics to claim sovereignty, which resulted in fierce battles with Serbs. A decade after hostilities ended, the country is still coming to terms with its past. Croats cherish their independence but many say the price was too high. And when it comes to Kosovo, there is no easy answer.
Father Milenko from a Zagreb's Orthodox cathedral says he prays for peace in the Balkans every day but fears that Croatian history may repeat itself in Kosovo.
“Kosovo is the spirit of Serbia. It's the cradle of our culture and religion. If Kosovo is taken away, there will never be peace in the Balkans,” said Father Milenko, an Orthodox Priest.
Meantime, the summit has acquired a special significance in the light of Saturday's agreement between Russia's Gazprom and Italy's ENI to lay a new Black Sea gas pipeline from Russia to Eastern and Southern Europe.
Gazprom Deputy CEO Aleksandr Medvedev says South European countries have voiced their readiness to co-operate on the project.
“The forum of the South European countries region delivered a very simple message – that the countries are sharing the approaches which were proclaimed at the G8 meeting and later on. They are ready to share the business principals which the leading countries of Europe are keeping in mind. That's why it gives a lot of optimism for us, because many countries will be participating directly-indirectly in this project, as consumers or may be as participants,” Mr Medvedev commented.