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Putin Snipes at EU on Access to Assets

President Vladimir Putin scrapped with European Union leaders Friday over Brussels' plans to limit foreign investment in energy markets at a summit that achieved little on key sticking points. 

Putin, in his final EU-Russia summit as president, took a swipe at proposals from Brussels that could prevent gas monopoly Gazprom from buying up power grids and pipelines while the 27-nation bloc revamps its gas and electricity markets.
He also drew a parallel between U.S. plans for a missile shield in Central Europe and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, widely regarded as the closest the world came to nuclear war. 

"I would remind you how relations were developing in an analogous situation in the middle of the 1960s," he said. "Analogous actions by the Soviet Union when it deployed rockets on Cuba provoked the Cuban missile crisis." 

With regard to domestic issues, Putin shed little additional light on what he planned to do after leaving office after presidential election in March. 

"As far as my future job, I have yet to determine where and in what capacity I will work," he said. 

Earlier this month, Putin said he might consider becoming prime minister.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates both pointed out in their addresses that the summit was Putin's last as president. 

Barroso expressed confidence that the EU could endorse Moscow's bid for membership of the World Trade Organization, a longstanding bone of contention in EU-Russia relations. 

"I am confident that those issues are solvable and both sides need to make rapid efforts to solve them," Barroso told reporters, referring to the two last issues preventing Brussels from signing off on Russian WTO membership. 

Putin said "talks are not easy but constructive" on the WTO. 

EU officials had played down expectations for the one-day summit, saying no major breakthroughs were expected on key issues such as a new partnership and cooperation agreement between Moscow and Brussels. 

Putin urged Europe not to be concerned by Russian companies -- buoyed by a windfall of petrodollars -- looking to invest in Europe, saying European investment in his country far outstripped investment in Europe. 

"When we hear from some European capitals that 'the Russians are coming with their horrible money to buy everything,' that makes me laugh," Putin told EU officials at the one-day meeting. 

"The total sum of European investment in Russia is 30 billion euros ($43 billion). I don't know whether it is big or not, but Russian investment in the European Union is one-tenth of this, just 3 billion euros." 

Putin said trade between Russia and EU had grown fivefold since 2000, reaching 180 billion euros last year, despite sometimes difficult relations. 

Most Russian money that comes to Europe is private, Putin said, and Europeans should remember that even investment by state-run Gazprom is also made on behalf of the estimated 25 percent of its shareholders that are foreign. 

In a move that seemed calculated as an advertisement for Russian petrodollars, Putin invited EU leaders to Russia's oil heartland, the west Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiisk, for the next summit. 

The Khanty-Mansiisk autonomous district was responsible for 60 percent of Russian oil production last year. 

Barroso denied that the energy draft laws would discriminate against Moscow and said Russian companies must play by the same rules as everyone else.
Socrates, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, said there were "important" advances at the summit. 

Russia and the EU signed deals on cooperation in drug trafficking and boosting trade in steel. 

Russia is the bloc's third biggest trading partner after the United States and China. Business leaders urged the politicians to improve relations. 

"There are two trends: economic ties go up, while political ties go down," Anatoly Chubais, head of electricity utility Unified Energy System, told reporters after EU and Russian business leaders met Putin and the top European officials. 

He said Russian investment in the EU was comparable or near European investment in Russia, contradicting Putin's assessment. 

A dispute over Russia's ban on Polish meat imports has stopped the EU and Russia from starting talks on a new partnership and cooperation agreement to replace the current one, which expires in December. 

"The new PCA is one of the acute problems. ... I expect talks on the new treaty will start in the near future," Putin said. 

Russian officials say they hope a new government in Poland, following an election, could be friendlier to Moscow. 

Brussels and Moscow have haggled over Russia's export duties on timber, which the EU wants resolved before blessing Moscow's entry into the WTO. 

Putin said he and the rest of the Russian delegation were impressed by Mafra's medieval appearance. 

"The city is not big, but has powerful, monumental architecture," Putin said in his opening speech at the summit. 

The summit in Mafra, near the Portuguese capital Lisbon, was held in a baroque royal palace -- a shift from the common practice of holding such events in the capital.


(The Moscow Times 29.x.07)

 
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