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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Intends to Cut Energy Use by 20%

ReutersA worker sweeping near the entrance of the media center in Lahti on Thursday ahead of an informal EU summit.
The European Commission approved a plan to cut EU energy use 20 percent by 2020 on Thursday, a day before European leaders raise their concerns about oil and gas supplies with President Vladimir Putin.

The plan for increased efficiency in buildings, cars, power generators and electrical products comes as demand and competition for energy is growing worldwide and EU doubts have grown about the reliability of Russian supplies.

In Moscow on Thursday, a senior Kremlin aide reiterated Russian objections to ratifying an Energy Charter the EU wants to see governing energy activity across the Eurasian continent.

"If Russia is not prepared to ratify the charter in its current form, it's time to start changing wording we cannot accept," Sergei Yastrzhembsky said, Itar-Tass reported.

"There are no other options," said Yastrzhembsky, Putin's aide in charge of EU ties.

Moscow has refused to ratify the charter as it opposes a protocol that would oblige Russia to open up Gazprom's export pipeline network to other companies.

The energy issue will be a hot topic on Friday in the Finnish town of Lahti, where EU leaders have invited Putin. They will be seeking guarantees of fair treatment in the energy sector, but are likely to come away disappointed.

The EU is largely dependent on foreign energy, a concern for the bloc's leaders who are trying to secure supplies while demand in developing states such as India and China skyrockets.

Russia supplies one-quarter of Europe's gas and EU states worry it uses its energy resources as a political weapon.

They were alarmed last winter by disruption of supplies in a pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine, and have also been upset by a move by Gazprom this month to close the giant new Shtokman gas field to foreign partners.

Although Russia has rebuffed EU pressure to ratify the energy charter, the Finnish EU presidency said Wednesday that it still hoped to start talks on a new pact covering energy, trade and human rights later this year.

EU leaders are expected to raise concerns about rights with Putin, including the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and Moscow's treatment of Georgians amid a fierce dispute between the two countries.

"We need to acknowledge the problems that exist," said Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, who will chair the meeting.

"The recent murder of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya is a sad testimony to problems that Russia faces today," he wrote on a Finnish government web site Thursday.

On Thursday, the center-right Liberal group in the European Parliament published an open letter to Putin protesting at a "rapid decline in freedom and democracy" in Russia.

Georgia is causing particular alarm. Moscow has imposed a transport and postal blockade on its small southern neighbor in retaliation for Georgia's brief detention of four purported Russians spies last month. Russia has also deported hundreds of Georgian migrants, claiming they were staying in the country illegally, and cracked down on Georgian businesses.

A senior U.S. diplomat on Wednesday criticized Moscow for putting pressure on ethnic Georgians living in Russia, saying such actions have no place in the 21st century.

"I hope that Russia will think about some of the means it has imposed against Georgia and particularly against Georgians because of their nationality," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said at a news conference during a visit to the Georgian capital. "I find it recalls another era, a time better left behind."

On Tuesday, EU foreign ministers expressed "grave concern" at the Russian measures. They urged Russia, "not to pursue measures targeting Georgians."

The energy saving plan unveiled Thursday, which needs to be approved by EU member countries and will be introduced over six years, was a response to an urgent call by European leaders this year as concerns about security of supply grew.

(Reuters, AP)