Putin blasts EU's 'unconstructive approach' in Gazprom probe
VLADIVOSTOK - Agence France-Presse
EPA photoPresident Vladimir Putin on Sunday condemned as "unconstructive" an EU anti-trust probe against Russian energy giant Gazprom, saying Moscow was no longer prepared to subsidise eastern Europe.
"We believe this approach to be unconstructive," Putin told reporters on the final day of the annual APEC summit in the Pacific port of Vladivostok after the EU Commission's decision to probe Gazprom over concerns it is hindering competition in central and eastern European gas markets.
"We regret that this is happening," Putin said. "We hope that we can get out of this situation, without losses for any side, through a business-like and well-meaning dialogue." He implied that the probe was aimed at making Moscow help ease the European Union out of its economic crisis by making it sell struggling eastern European economies cheap energy.
"This (the probe) is caused by many things, but above all the difficult economic situation in the eurozone," he said, accusing the European Commission of forcing Gazprom to take some of the burden of "subsidising" economically weak eastern European countries.
"United Europe wants to retain some political influence and wants us to pay for it," he added.
Putin recalled that under the Soviet Union Moscow had supplied hugely-subsidised energy supplies to its Communist bloc satellites but insisted that post-Soviet Russia would only export hydrocarbons at market prices.
"We need to stay on the path of reality today so that modern Russia does not take upon itself additional obligations linked to the anti-market solutions for the economies of those countries," he said.
The EU said earlier this week it had launched the probe over concerns that Gazprom is hindering competition in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia.
The EU suspects Gazprom "may have prevented the diversification of gas supplies" and "imposed unfair prices on its customers by linking the price of gas to oil prices." Gazprom has insisted its activity on the EU market and its pricing principles were "in accord with the standards used by other gas producers and exporters." The energy firm, a cornerstone of the modern Russian state, grew out of the USSR's Gas Industry Ministry and was part-privatised from 1993 in the much-criticised sale of state assets in post-Soviet Russia. But the government retains a controlling stake.
Putin meanwhile unfavourably compared the eurozone's economic prospects with those of the Asia-Pacific region, saying Europe was saddled with low growth and a heavy social burden.
"This region, the APEC region, is the locomotive of the world economy today. If the eurozone has zero growth or even a recession then here there is at least growth, and decent growth." He said one APEC leader -- who he did not name -- had said in a closed-door APEC session that the eurozone's problems were linked more with politics than economics.
Putin said he agreed with that assessment as European states had to take on too heavy a social burden in their economies whereas APEC states were not held back in this way.