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24 Jun, 2007 14:14

Russia seeks to reassure Balkans on energy

At the Southeast Europe Energy Summit, the Russian leadership is seeking to reassure Balkan countries of Russia's remaining their best energy partner. Recently there have been moves in the region to avoid 'over-dependence' on Russian energy resources.

In the Croatian capital Zagreb, leaders of ten South European countries are discussing ways to deepen energy co-operation.
They have the goal of turning the region into an energy hub, especially for transfer of gas from major producers like Russia to consumers in Western Europe.

Former Soviet republics are traditionally the main energy suppliers for Southern Europe, but a few years ago some countries moved to diversify their supplies away from Russia, and Croatia was one of the pioneers. Back in 1999, it signed an agreement with Italy that put an end to Russia being the single gas supplier to this country.

However, recently some South European countries came to realise, that without Russian energy their ambitious plan of becoming an energy crossing might be difficult to reach.

The leaders have already given their statements and some of them in their speeches addressed Russia. They said that they would be interested in investment and integrating the markets more closely.

Hence the importance of Mr Putin's appearance, who is attending the Summit as a special guest invited by the Croatian President Stipe Mesic.

At the forum President Putin reiterated Russia's stance that energy can't be used as a political tool.

He emphasised that only strengthening mutual trust between Russia and Europe can lead to further expansion of co-operation in the energy field.

“One more field of co-operation is power industry. 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 modernisation of the generating supplies of the region’s countries,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We are convinced that the way to further intensification of our contacts in 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. 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.

The leaders are set to discuss a number of energy projects, both ongoing and potential.

There are indications that politics might actually overshadow economic topics. The meeting brings together the leaders of all republics of former Yugoslavia. The Russian President wants to use the opportunity to get their feedback on the Kosovo issue.

Just a few days ago Russia rejected a revised UN Security Council resolution paving the way for Kosovo independence. Russian officials called the proposal unacceptable in a move that was welcomed in Belgrade but harshly criticised in Pristina.

Meanwhile, Presidential Aide Sergey Prikhodko has already said that the main aim of these meetings is not discussing how to resolve the issue of Kosovo, but just getting information about what's going on there.

During talks with the Serbian President Boris Tadic Mr Putin stressed that Russia's position on Kosovo's status is based strictly on international law.

“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, political analyst from the Institute of World History in Moscow, supposes there will 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.

These consultations come at very symbolic time. On Monday, Croatia is going to celebrate its independence day dating back to 1991, when Croatia together with Slovenia announced its independence from Yugoslavia – at that time ruled by Serb majority. That led to four years of fierce fighting and resulted in many thousands of deaths and mass immigration of Serbs from Croatia. The country still tries to come to terms with its past, and people across the Balkans hope that the history won't repeat itself in Kosovo.

Meanwhile, President Putin has held a number of bilateral meetings on the summit sidelines. He met with the leaders of Macedonia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mr Putin expressed his hope that bilateral trade and economic ties would strengthen between the countries, and Russian investment would increase.

A number of regional projects were discussed.

When meeting his Bulgarian counterpart Georgy Parvanov, President Putin said he is satisfied with the way the Burgas – Aleksandrupolis oil pipeline project is developing.

The agreement on the pipeline's construction was signed in March this year between Russia, Greece and Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian President also said that Bulgaria is interested in another Russian venture which it has with Italy – to bring Russian gas to Europe across the Baltic Sea.