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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Meets As Talk of Sanctions Recedes

Staff Writers

European Union leaders are unlikely to call for economic sanctions Monday when they convene in Brussels for an emergency meeting to formulate a joint response to Russia's actions in the conflict with Georgia.

A response that did not include sanctions would sidestep proposals by Britain and member states formerly in the Communist bloc to take a tougher stance toward Russia after it clashed militarily with Georgia last month and then recognized the independence of Georgian separatist provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In one sign that the EU meeting would likely focus on measures other than sanctions, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he would push European leaders to increase funding for energy supply lines from the Caspian Sea area that bypass Russia.

"No nation can be allowed to exert an energy stranglehold over Europe," Brown said, Britain's The Observer newspaper reported Sunday.

Russia supplies more than one-quarter of Europe's gas needs and provides much of its oil.

A proposed pipeline from the energy-rich Caspian Sea countries, like Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, to Central Europe would pass through Georgia, skirting Russia.

Brown said it might be necessary for the Group of Eight to expel Russia, currently a member, when the organization next meets, adding that NATO might also have to review its relationship with Moscow.

At the Monday meeting in Brussels, the European leaders were also expected to voice strong support for Georgia's territorial integrity and signal that normal relations with Moscow would be impossible as long as Russian troops remain on Georgian territory outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

There was also talk over the weekend of an EU humanitarian mission to Georgia to underline support for the cease-fire agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and Polish President Lech Kaczynski appeared to agree on the measures during meetings held Saturday, Polish news agency PAP reported.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, told Merkel that he wanted the EU to consider Ukraine's future at the summit, his spokesman said.

Russia won a short war with Georgia following a Georgian attack aimed at re-establishing Tbilisi's control over South Ossetia.

Following Moscow's recognition of the two regions as independent, there have been warnings from Kiev and Europe that Russia's military success in Georgia could encourage it to seek more influence in Ukraine, where the government has pursued closer ties with the West.

Other possible responses broached by the European side have included a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and holding off on talks for a broader economic partnership with Moscow, The Associated Press reported.

But the talk of direct political or economic sanctions that had been making the rounds last week died down over the weekend.

"The time to pass sanctions has certainly not come," said a senior French diplomat, Reuters reported. France currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

In a television interview with Germany's ARD television station aired Friday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia and the EU must value each other as trade partners. Russian exports, largely consisting of raw materials, are in high demand on the world market, he said, according to a transcript posted on the Cabinet's web site.

Russia, in turn, is a vast market for Western manufactured goods, Putin said.

"Does someone want to stop deliveries to us? We will buy things in other places," he said. "Who will benefit from this? I don't understand."

Russia's reaction to any sanctions would be in kind, like visa restrictions or a freeze on business contacts, and would likely not affect oil supplies, an unidentified EU diplomat said Friday, Reuters reported.

Senior energy officials and oil companies denied Friday that supplies could fall prey to frayed relations, in reaction to a Friday report in Britain's Daily Telegraph that that the government had warned private oil company LUKoil, Russia's second-largest producer, to be prepared to cut deliveries to Europe if it imposed sanctions. The Telegraph report cited a high-level business source.

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who is also chairman of state-controlled Rosneft, dismissed the report as "nothing more than a concoction and rude provocation," Interfax reported.

Even during the Cold War, the Soviet Union never disrupted oil supplies to Europe, Sechin said.

Putin had much the same message in an interview with CNN on Thursday.

"Yes, Europeans are dependent on our supplies, but we are also dependent on those who buy our gas — this is a mutual dependency, which is itself the guarantee of stability," Putin said.

Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said the government would do everything in its power to ensure steady oil supplies, adding that it was "very wary" of any attempts to imply that it was not a reliable supplier, Interfax reported.

LUKoil spokesman Vladimir Semakov said the company had received no instructions to prepare to halt supplies.

Rosneft spokesman Nikolai Manvelov and TNK-BP spokeswoman Marina Dracheva also said it was business was as usual.

Russian oil traders also said they had no word of a cut in exports, Reuters reported.

"Only a sick mind would think of cutting off Europe," a trader at one oil company said. "Technically, it is practically impossible, since [Russian] refineries are running at maximum rates and it is difficult to arbitrage right now."