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20 Dec, 2006 03:58

Energy security issue marks Russia's G8 chairmanship

Energy security issue marks Russia's G8 chairmanship

Russia's G8 chairmanship will come to an end on January 1st, when Germany takes over. Energy security, fighting infectious diseases and education – those were the key issues during this years G8 summit in St Petersburg.

By picking energy security, Russia raised the question of safeguarding steady energy supply at the time when rising demand has more than doubled world oil prices. Concerns about Russia's international credibility rose in January 2006, when Russian state owned company Gazprom briefly cut gas flow to Ukraine, which was followed by a disruption to European supplies.

And as winter approaches, Europe attentively observes Gazprom price talks with Belarus and Georgia. The main concern is the possibility of another gas crisis. However President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials insist Russia is a reliable source.

Speaking at a press conference dedicated to Russia's end of the G8 presidency, Dmitry Peskov, Official Spokesman for Russian President, commented on this. “Is Russia a trustworthy supplier? Yes, it is. We have done everything to support our credibility,” he said. “Talks with Belarus are progressing well. Both sides continue to work towards a satisfactory outcome. Georgia, well, Georgia does not seem to want to resolve the issue in a decent way.”

Mr Peskov highlighted the issue of energy security as one of international significance, sure to dominate world agendas for some time. He does not, however, believe that Russia's refusal to ratify the Energy Charter undermines its credibility.

“President Putin said the Charter will not be ratified by Russia. But we hope that some of its major positions will be worked into the new Russia-EU agreement, which we are hoping to begin work on very soon,” he claimed.

The Charter's main stumbling block is allowing international gas companies to access Gazprom's pipelines. The Russian oil and gas giant's monopoly on their use was legally ratified in time for the summit, reaffirming Russia's position on the matter. But some say not only is Russia justified in its position, but also it presented the question of energy security in a new, globally relevant light.

“Until this year the discussion of energy in the G8 context was how to satisfy the interests of the most developed countries of the world,” says Vyacheslav Nikonov, Head of Politika Foundation. “This year there was a discussion of interest not only of those on the demand side of the equation, but also those on the supply side of the equation.”

Previously, Russia's ability to preside over the G8 summit had been questioned. Criticism against the Kremlin about a lack of democracy, human rights violations, and press freedoms had punctuated its warming relations with the West. But the summit allowed Russia to showcase its rise as an energy giant and deflect criticism against it. And with the acceptance of a global energy security declaration, the significance of forming a partnership to resolve potential problems in the triangle of producing, consuming, and transiting countries is finally recognised.