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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin to Skip Energy Conference in Sofia

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will skip an international conference in Bulgaria that aims to discuss energy supply crises this weekend, his spokesman said Tuesday.

Putin initially planned to join 28 delegations, including European Union members and institutions, transit countries and Central Asian suppliers, in Sofia for talks Friday and Saturday. The conference's web site lists energy security agreements and mitigation of supply crises as topics for discussion.

Putin decided against attending because he will have a chance to discuss the results of the conference during Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev's previously scheduled visit to Moscow beginning Monday, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"From the point of view of protocol, it wouldn't be very logical for Putin to go there and have Stanishev coming here in just two days," Peskov said.

It remained unclear Tuesday whether Putin initially agreed to attend before the EU and Ukraine signed a declaration to upgrade Ukraine's gas transit system March 23, a tentative agreement that strongly irritated Russia.

Asked whether Putin's change of plans was associated with Russia's displeasure about the declaration that ignored Gazprom's interests as the main user of Ukraine's pipelines, Peskov said, "No, no, no. Our contacts on this have been quite constructive."

Instead of Putin, Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko will represent Russia in Sofia, Peskov said.

Kiril Atanasov, a spokesman for Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov's administration, which organized the conference, said he wasn't authorized to comment on Putin's pullout.

Putin also avoided a conference this Thursday and Friday on energy transit in Ashgabat, the capital of Russia's long-standing gas supplier Turkmenistan. He never planned to attend, instead sending his energy deputy Igor Sechin and Gazprom chief Alexei Miller.

The Sofia conference may discuss President Dmitry Medvedev's proposal on Monday to adopt a new energy security charter, State Duma Deputy Speaker Valery Yazev said Tuesday. Yazev said one of the problems with the EU's current Energy Charter Treaty is that it does not stipulate any punishment for breaking its provisions.

Yazev warned against Gazprom reviewing its long-term contract to buy Turkmen gas, an option that may appear reasonable given falling demand. Any move to revise purchase volumes downward would undermine Gazprom's position in the geopolitical battle for the Central Asian country's gas reserves, he said.

Turkmenistan granted tentative consent to Germany's RWE to produce and export oil and gas from a Caspian Sea field last week. Yazev said it was the first case of a foreign company getting close to accessing Turkmen energy resources.

Gazprom reduced purchases from the country earlier this month to what Yazev described as the least possible amount allowed by the contract.