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Friday, January 05, 2007

Annals of Cold War II: Merkel and Lukashenko Blast Putin

The International Herald Tribune reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has lashed out at the Kremlin's classic neo-Soviet hypocrisy in closing the Shtokman gas fields to European investors while at the same time expecting full access to European markets. Dream on Russia, a combative Chancellor says:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview published Wednesday that Europe would be entitled to keep out Russian business expansion if Moscow blocks European investors. "I think it's perfectly legitimate for Russia to seek greater access to western European markets," Merkel was quoted as saying by the Financial Times newspaper. "Having said that, we must have reciprocity. If obstacles are being erected to protect Russian companies from European investors, nobody should resent it if the Europeans take reciprocal action," she said.

Merkel did not elaborate in an edited transcript of the interview posted on the newspaper's Web site. During a visit to Germany in September, Russian President Vladimir Putin lobbied German business leaders to accept more investment from Russian companies. Merkel's remarks follow differing statements by Russian authorities about to what extent they might include foreign investors in developing the Shtokman gas field. State-controlled Russian gas company Gazprom also has wrested a controlling stake in the Sakhalin-2 gas development from Royal Dutch Shell, Mitsui & Co. and Mitsubishi Corp. after bureaucratic pressure from Russian officials over purported environmental issues. In October, Russia locked out major international energy companies who had been angling for access to Shtokman — including U.S. giants Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips, as well as Norway's Statoil ASA and Norsk Hydro ASA, and France's Total SA. Recently officials have said they might permit foreign involvement under certain conditions.

Merkel also expressed concern about the amount of press freedom in Russia and about increased legal burdens placed on nongovernmental organizations. "We have seen some incidents that we ought to be concerned about," Merkel said, without elaborating. "We always mention such observations (to the Russians)."

Meanwhile, UPI reports that Belarussian "President" Alexander Lukashenko has imposed a duty on all Russian oil crossing the territory of Belarus following the Kremlin's extortionate price gouging on supplies to Belarus in order to bludgeon that country to hand over control of its energy infrastructure to Russia, a nakedly imperialist gambit:

Belarus said it was imposing a duty on Russian oil crossing its territory in retaliation for Russia's more than doubling its natural gas price. The $45-per-metric-ton transit duty, imposed Thursday by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, is retroactive to Monday, the day the gas hike to Belarus went into effect, the Russian Information Agency Novosti reported.

The Kremlin said the duty will not threaten oil deliveries. Some analysts said it could cause short-term disruption to German and Polish refiners, the BBC reported. The refiners might also look for cheaper supplies elsewhere. Russia transports 20 percent, or 1 million barrels, of its oil exports through Belarus, largely to Germany and Poland. Belarus agreed to pay $100 per cubic metric ton, up from $46.7, and sold half its Beltransgaz gas pipeline operator for $2.5 billion, half the $5 billion Belarus originally demanded. Moscow says it wants all former Soviet republics pay market prices for energy supplies.

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