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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tough Questions for Putin in France

President Vladimir Putin will face tough questions over Russia's review of foreign energy contracts and attempt to acquire a bigger stake in EADS when he meets with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a summit in France this weekend.

The three leaders are also due to discuss Russia's evolving relationship with the European Union and to try and hammer out a common approach toward Iran's nuclear program.

Putin will kick off his visit Friday by meeting Chirac in Paris, where the two leaders are expected to discuss a wide range of issues, including transportation and trade, and unveil a World War II monument in Le Bourget, a Kremlin spokesman said by telephone Thursday.

On Saturday, Putin, Chirac and Merkel will gather for an informal summit at a royal palace in Compiegne, a town outside Paris on the Oise River, where they will discuss energy and aerospace, as well as Russia's future with the EU and the Group of Eight.

This will be the fourth such summit between the three countries, and Merkel's first.

Russia will hope that the theme of energy security, which was prominent at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, will be developed further, the Kremlin spokesman said.

"Energy issues will be at the forefront," he said.

The summit comes just days after the Natural Resources Ministry's decision to review Total's contract to develop the Kharyaga oil field in the Arctic.

The move -- along with the ministry's decision to revoke the environmental license of the Royal Dutch Shell-led Sakhalin-2 project -- has largely been seen as a way for the state to renegotiate production sharing agreements, or PSAs, with foreign oil majors, and for state-run energy companies to take a significant share in the projects.

Total, the world's fourth-largest publicly traded oil major, owns 50 percent of the Kharyaga field. Total is also one of five Western oil companies seeking to grab a share of the Gazprom-led effort to develop Shtokman, a huge field near the Barents Sea that is said to contain 3.7 trillion cubic meters of gas.

"Chirac will be pressing Putin for the sanctity of Total's interest in its PSA and Total's possible involvement in Shtokman," said Clifford Kupchan, director for Europe and Eurasia at the Eurasia Group, a Washington think tank.

Aymerique de Villaret, an oil and gas analyst with Societe Generale, said the energy talks would likely focus on potential French involvement in Shtokman.

As well as energy, talks are likely to focus on Russia's cooperation with French-German aerospace giant EADS, the Kremlin spokesman said.

"This is a rather important question," he said. "There is a need to exchange opinions on the issue."

On Wednesday, Aeroflot announced it would split an order for 44 passenger jets equally between Airbus, which is 80 percent owned by EADS, and U.S. giant Boeing. The decision came after state-owned Vneshtorgbank earlier this month confirmed it had bought 5 percent of EADS.

Putin's foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said last week that Russia might eventually seek a blocking stake in EADS and a seat on its board. EADS said last week that it was against giving Russia a say in how the company was run.

The largest shareholders in EADS are Germany's DaimlerChrysler with 22.5 percent, the French government with 15 percent and French company Lagardere with 15 percent.

Vladislav Belov, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe, said that while neither Chirac nor Merkel could order EADS shareholders to give Russia a say in the company, they could help to soften European attitudes toward Russian ambitions.

Winfried Becker, an engineering analyst at Sal. Oppenheim, a Frankfurt-based private bank, said Russian attempts to take a bigger stake in EADS would upset France in particular as the French were looking to increase their own influence in EADS.

"I can imagine that France is not very happy about those wishes," Becker said. "The balance of power [in EADS] has been secured for the long term," Becker said, adding that Russian influence was not meant to be part of that equation.

Another potentially thorny issue at the summit is Russia's cooperation agreement with the EU, which is due to come up for renewal next year, when the current 10-year accord expires. Germany takes over the rotating presidency of the EU in January and will oversee work on drawing up the new EU-Russia agreement.

"This is very beneficial for Russia because Germany is Russia's closest partner in Western Europe," said Belov, the Europe researcher.

Unlike her predecessor, Gerhard Schroder, Merkel is not particularly pro-Russian and does not enjoy the close personal friendship with Putin that he did, but she has a good understanding of the pros and cons of EU-Russian relations, Belov said.

The new agreement is very important for Moscow because it would confirm on paper Russia's more assertive relations with Europe, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

"The 1997 agreement was heavy on calls to Russia to stick to democratic and rights standards to comply with Europe's expectations. Today, it is no longer the demand of the day," Lukyanov said.

The new document would likely focus instead on energy security, with Russia asking the EU to recognize its role as the continent's biggest energy supplier.

The French media, long Europe's most critical toward Putin, especially on Chechnya, has carried several recent warnings about Russian policy.

"Putin has never hidden his ambition of putting Russia at the forefront of global politics and using his economic strength to this end. The economy -- especially energy -- has replaced missiles," left-leaning daily Le Monde commented earlier this week.

France saw its gas supplies cut by 40 percent during Russia's dispute with Ukraine in January, when Moscow briefly cut the flow to its neighbor, thus preventing further export to Europe. Russia supplies one-quarter of Europe's gas.

"Putin is playing a very strong hand with all the Europeans right now. He is very confident about Russia's leverage," said Kupchan of the Eurasia Group. "Putin's special confidence will affect his energy-related talks with Chirac."

On Iran's nuclear ambitions, Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the three countries shared "very close" views.

"We are equally concerned that Iran not become a nuclear power," Kosachyov said.

He added that a proposal by a group of European countries, including Russia, was neither "discriminating" nor "unique." He cited as examples Ukraine, Spain and Sweden, which have developed nuclear industries without enriching uranium on their own soil.

On Friday, Putin and Chirac will discuss trade issues, including transportation, space, technology and the media.

Russian and French transportation ministries will sign a cooperation agreement, the Kremlin spokesman said Thursday, adding that Vinci, a French construction group, will sign a preliminary deal to build a highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

In Le Bourget, Putin and Chirac will unveil a monument to French air force pilots who fought against the Nazis on the Russian front from 1943 to 1945, the spokesman said.

Near the palace where the summit will take place is the Compiegne Forest, where Germany surrendered to the Allies in 1918 and France surrendered to Hitler's Germany in 1940. It is also the site of Joan of Arc's capture, before she was turned over to the English.