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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Merkel Will Press Putin Over Energy Supplies

APMerkel delivering her speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that she would use her country's EU presidency to push for an agreement ensuring Russia's ability to act as a reliable energy supplier.

Merkel's tough statements on Russia came four days before she was due to meet President Vladimir Putin for talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Sunday.

"We need reliable relations," Merkel told a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. "At the same time, we can't ignore issues like freedom of the press, civil liberties or conflicts in Russia's neighboring countries."

Germany took over the rotating six-month EU presidency Jan. 1, in the midst of an energy dispute between Russia and Belarus that later saw oil supplies cut to Germany and four other European countries for three days.

"We intend to do everything we can for a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia to begin under the German presidency," Merkel said.

"Energy will be high on the agenda," she added.

The current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, a wide-ranging bilateral accord that maps out all dealings between Brussels and Moscow, is due to expire this year. Poland has blocked the start of talks on negotiating a new accord until Russia lifts a yearlong ban on Polish meat.

"We hope we are very near a solution on the export of Polish agricultural products to Russia, which will allow us to start talks soon," Walter-J?rgen Schmid, Germany's ambassador to Moscow, told reporters Wednesday.

European Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou held talks with Polish officials in Warsaw last week, and representatives from Russia, Poland and the European Commission were meeting Wednesday in Berlin in hopes of reaching a deal, he said.

Kyprianou hopes to sign a letter of intent on lifting the ban with Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev on Friday, Reuters quoted a commission spokesman as saying.

A spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry's licensing agency could not be immediately reached for comment.

If Russia lifts the ban on Polish meat and Poland reciprocates by lifting its veto to starting negotiations, tough talks still likely lie ahead.

"Recent experience has shown that we need a serious energy dialogue," Schmid said.

Five EU countries were struck with oil cuts earlier this month, when a key pipeline delivering Russian oil to Europe was shut down in the midst of a tariff dispute between Belarus and Russia.

Merkel's remarks on the cutoffs were some of the harshest to come out of Europe, and reaffirmed that her approach to Russia was markedly different from that of her predecessor, Gerhard Schroder.

A Russian-speaker who grew up in East Germany, Merkel is less trustful of Putin than her predecessor, who often praised the Russian leader for bringing economic and political stability to the country, analysts said. She spent her first year as chancellor rebuilding ties with the United States, which had been damaged over Schr?der's opposition to the war in Iraq.

Schroder developed close relations with Putin and upon leaving office took up a 250,000 euro ($320,000) per year job as head of the Gazprom-led North European Gas Pipeline, which is to pump up to 55 billion cubic meters of gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany.

Russia currently supplies around one-quarter of Europe's gas, a figure that is expected to rise steeply over the next decade.

"Deep down, Merkel feels she grew up in a state occupied by the Soviet Union," said Alexander Rahr of the Korber Center for Russia and the CIS in Hamburg, Germany. "She has a lot of mistrust of Russia's army, its bureaucracy and its politics in general."

Merkel is due to meet Putin, who served as a KGB lieutenant colonel in East Germany, at his residence in Sochi for several hours of talks late Sunday. The talks were initially planned for Moscow. Ambassador Schmid and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say why the venue had changed.

Putin will use the talks to explain the Belarus crisis to Merkel, Peskov said. During the oil cutoff early last month, Merkel said it was "unacceptable" that Moscow had failed to inform its European customers that oil supplies would be disrupted.

"Questions regarding energy security will rank highly during the talks," Peskov said. "Russia has been, is, and will remain a key supplier of energy to Europe."