Fillon Uses Visit to Ease EU's Worries

APPutin addressing reporters on Saturday with Fillon, who said talks on an EU-Russia pact could resume next month.
SOCHI -- French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Saturday that talks on a Russia-EU pact, postponed after the war in Georgia, could resume early next month as Moscow and Paris sought to boost ties in the energy and technology sectors.

"The EU position is clear: We hope the talks will resume as soon as the provisions of the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan are carried out," Fillon told a news conference after talks with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Under a plan agreed on by President Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, Russia would withdraw its forces from undisputed Georgian territories soon after the EU deploys monitors there.

"There are no reasons not to resume talks early next month," Fillon said.

After their talks, Putin and Fillon signed a document on developing relations in the high-tech, energy and space sectors, including cooperation in developing the Shtokman gas field and a joint project to launch Soyuz spacecraft from a French facility.

Arianespace, the commercial arm of the European Space Agency, is to buy 10 Soyuz-ST booster rockets under a contract signed Saturday by Arianespace chairman Jean-Yves Le Gall and Anatoly Perminov, head of the Federal Space Agency, Russian news agencies reported.

Le Gall said the contract was worth $300 million to $400 million. The rockets will be launched from the Kourou center in French Guiana, starting next year.

Russia generates income by marketing its booster rockets and its Baikonur Cosmodrome, in neighboring Kazakhstan, for commercial satellite launches. The Federal Space Agency said a Canadian telecommunications satellite, Nimiq 4, was successfully launched from Baikonur on Saturday.

Additionally, Electricite de France said it was considering the acquisition of a stake in Inter RAO after signing a cooperation accord with the utility.

Marc Boudier, head of EDF's mainland European business, said the company might buy a "very humble stake" in Inter RAO, which is looking to expand overseas.

The utilities may develop joint power projects, including a company to sell electricity in Eastern Europe, Inter RAO chief executive Yevgeny Dod said Saturday.

The flurry of business activity came at a time when the EU is reviewing its ties with Russia.

The EU condemned Moscow's intervention in Georgia, but members are split over how to handle relations with its biggest energy supplier. The EU stopped short of imposing sanctions but suspended talks on a new treaty regulating their relations with Russia.

"We wanted this meeting to take place at the original time because it's very important to strengthen the partnership between the European Union and Russia, and France and Russia," Fillon told Putin late Friday.

Fillon's remarks highlighted the differences within the EU -- some members, including France, Germany and Italy, urge caution in relations with Russia, while others, mainly former Soviet satellites, want tougher action.

Putin seized the opportunity to say cooperation with France had not been affected "in any way" by the Georgian crisis.

(Reuters, AP, Bloomberg)