‘Russia cannot do without European energy market’

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Following the failure of the May EU Summit in Samara, the Kremlin’s withdrawal from the CFE Treaty suggests a further deterioration in dialogue between the EU and Russia. In an interview with EURACTIV France, Thomas Gomart, Russian programme director for the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI), reconsiders the possibility of a new energy relationship.

“The Samara Summit did not allow, as the German EU Presidency had hoped, for the opening of negotiations for a new energy agreement,” says Thomas Gomart. 

“The dialogue between the European Union and Russia has suffered from the deterioration of a series of bilateral relations, such as Moscow-Warsaw, Moscow and the Baltic States and, more recently, Moscow and London.” 

Concerning energy supply, “several things must be underlined”, Gomart explains. “First of all, present European difficulties in the energy field can be attributed to the dissimilar situations that exist in member states, with some countries much more dependent than others on Russian supply. However, Gazprom needs the European market more than the European market needs Gazprom – nearly all of Gazprom’s profits come from the European market, which is the closest, most natural and most solvent destination for Russian exports. In other words, Russia absolutely cannot deprive itself of the European market if it wants to continue with strong growth and reap the full benefits of energy revenue. 

“This brings us to the question about the Baltic Sea gas pipeline. The project was politicised as political relations with Russia worsened. Before the 2004 enlargement, it was supported by the European Commission and was regarded as potentially profitable for the EU, even if the entrance point was Germany. But Poland and the Baltic began to politicise the discussion. Poland and the Baltic States are today in a paradoxical posture. According to them, Russia uses energy supply as a geopolitical weapon. However, when Moscow decided to circumvent their territories, they claimed that they were being dispossessed of geopolitical value.” 

Despite Germany’s position as Russia’s most important EU partner, Gomart believes that France too has a pivotal role to play: “For the French operators, in particular for GDF, Gazprom is a historical and reliable partner. The oil group French Total has just obtained an important contract in Russia with Gazprom. Could one interpret this decision as a gesture by the Kremlin towards Nicolas Sarkozy, who, contrary to Jacques Chirac, is not yet perceived as a ‘friend’ of Russia? During his election campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy made critical remarks towards Russia, but his presidential function now obliges, him to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But one should not reduce the bilateral relations between the two countries to mere presidential dialogue.”

To read the full interview, visit the EURACTIV France website here.

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