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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sochi Summit Yields No Energy Pact

APFrom left, Barroso, Schuessel, Putin and Solana taking a walk between meetings at a summit in Sochi on Thursday.
SOCHI, Southern Russia -- President Vladimir Putin and European Union leaders failed to secure an agreement on energy policy at a meeting in Sochi on Thursday in the run-up to the G8's summit in St. Petersburg.

Putin accused European leaders of double standards, maintaining that the EU complained about Gazprom's gas-export monopoly but blocked Russian efforts to tap European energy markets.

The Sochi meeting came at the same time that Russian-U.S. relations have also been strained, with the White House upset with Russia's energy policy, position on Iran's uranium-enrichment program and human-rights record.

"If our European partners expect that we will let them into the holy of holies of our economy -- the energy sector -- and let them in as they would like to be admitted, then we expect reciprocal steps in the most crucial and important areas for our development," the president said.

Putin sounded an optimistic note, too. "The most important thing is that we have a desire to agree on this issue, and we will reach an agreement."

And, for the first time, Putin responded directly to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's assertion that Russia is backtracking on democracy, saying Russia was simply pursuing its national interests.

"When we fight for our interests, we also look for the most acceptable methods to accomplish our national tasks, and I find it strange that this seems inexplicable to some," Putin said.

He added: "We see how the United States defends its interests. We see what methods and means they use for this."

The meeting at Putin's Black Sea residence was widely seen as a dry run for the Group of Eight summit in July in St. Petersburg. Moscow's energy policies are expected to dominate the discussions.

Russia, as this year's G8 president, has made energy security the summit's No. 1 priority this year.

Western leaders, for their part, have grown wary of Moscow's efforts to use its vast hydrocarbon resources as geopolitical leverage. Those fears were aggravated after Gazprom briefly shut off gas supplies to Ukraine in January. That shutdown disrupted gas flows to the rest of Europe.

Russia, which has been supplying gas to Europe for more than 40 years, provides a quarter of all natural gas consumed in Europe. The January shutdown prompted some Western European officials to state publicly that they might look elsewhere for gas. Russia has responded by indicating it may seek new markets in oil- and gas-hungry China.

On Thursday, Putin sought to assuage European concerns that the continent may lose its biggest energy supplier. "China is not an alternative to Europe for energy supplies," he said.

The Europeans also sought to mitigate concerns about EU-Russian relations, stressing the EU was Russia's biggest trading partners and a loyal energy customer. They added that they expected the Russians to be a reliable energy supplier.

The European delegation included Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country holds the EU chairmanship; European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso; and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Barroso and Schuessel said Thursday that they asked Putin to ensure that Russia's energy policies become transparent and market-based.

Putin responded by saying that by the end of this year the State Duma is expected to adopt a law on foreign participation in the exploration of Russia's natural resources. The new law will transfer exploration regulation to the legislative from the administrative domains.

Barroso and Schuessel also said they sought reciprocity from Russia.

With that in mind, the EU wants access to the pipelines that state-owned gas giant Gazprom controls. Moscow has denied the Europeans access to these pipelines.

"If Gazprom wants to open up to others, I think the important thing is this should also be for our own companies ... particularly with regard to the gas infrastructure," EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

Russia has complained bitterly about British officials looking to block Gazprom's bid for British gas distributor Centrica. Fueling Russian frustrations was German energy firm E.On's move last week to deter Gazprom from buying a stake in its distribution network in Germany.

The Sochi meeting coincided with a Natural Resources Ministry announcement Thursday that it was considering slashing foreign oil majors' stakes in the Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 energy consortiums to give Russian companies majority control.

Russia and the EU did manage to hammer out two agreements on visas.

The so-called facilitation agreement should speed up the issuance of 90-day visas for businessmen, artists, athletes, students and journalists traveling between Russia and EU member-states.

A separate re-admission agreement sets the rules for the swift repatriation of those who have entered Russia or the EU illegally or have overstayed the terms of their visas. For the first three years after the agreement comes into force, Russia will accept only Russian citizens from the EU; after this period, it will also accept citizens of other countries that had entered EU countries illegally.

The two documents must be ratified by the European Parliament and the State Duma.

Putin said he hoped that the agreements would be effective beginning next year.

"I don't see any problem in having this document ratified in Russia," said Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the president's pointman on relations with the EU.

Putin also said Russia sought a revised version of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, or PCA, which puts greater focus on security issues.

The current version of the PCA expires in 2007. The Europeans want to see that version extended. The existing PCA focuses on human rights and civil liberties; EU institutions have routinely taken Russia to task for its war in Chechnya and growing authoritarianism.

Schuessel said the existing PCA should be "the foundation" of the new PCA. Moscow will begin drafting the new PCA document in the fall, Yastrzhembsky said.

The Iranian nuclear dispute, Middle East tensions, developments in the Balkans and the rights of Russian minorities in the Baltic states also figured at the one-day meeting.

Human rights, once a sensitive and heavily discussed issue at EU-Russian talks, was apparently sidelined this time. Yastrzhembsky said the issue did not come up at an informal dinner Wednesday.

Both sides also agreed to set up a so-called European Studies Institute at the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations.

And they agreed on an EU donation of 20 million euros ($25.5 million) to help create jobs in Chechnya, Ingushetia and North Ossetia.

Closing the summit, Putin asked journalists to help promote Sochi's bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.