Germany wants Russia to asssure it on energy

Sochi, January 21:

German chancellor Angela Merkel was due in Russia on Sunday where she was expected to press President Vladimir Putin for guarantees on Russian energy supplies to the European Union.

The meeting at this Black Sea resort comes in the wake of an oil transit dispute between Russia and neighbouring Belarus that disrupted energy supplies to Europe and further damaged Moscow’s tattered reputation as a reliable partner.

Merkel was scheduled to arrive around 4:30 pm (1330 GMT) for talks in the president’s summer residence which overlooks the sea and then return towards 9:00 pm (1800 GMT) for Berlin.

The encounter has added significance because Germany currently holds the presidency of both the European Union and the Group of Eight, the club of major economies in which Russia itself held the top role for the first time last year.

The German-Russian relationship has become less cosy since Merkel took over from her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder. Last Friday, she stressed she could not describe Putin as “a flawless democrat,” as Schroeder once did.

“I haven’t said that yet and I’m not saying that now,” Merkel said. Last week, she attacked Russia’s handling of the oil transit row with Belarus, saying this “destroys confidence.” Merkel has also put a stronger emphasis than Schroeder did on the need for strong European ties to the United States.

The EU dependency on Russian energy means that links remain pragmatic. On another important EU-Russia trade matter, Germany is hoping to clear the way for talks on a Russian-EU strategic partnership.

On the eve of the meeting Merkel said a dispute over Polish meat imports into Russia which had resulted in Poland’s veto on opening talks on the partnership deal had been resolved. Talks on the Middle East are also likely with the so-called “quartet” — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and United States — planning a new attempt to kick-start stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Merkel has made this a priority of Germany’s EU presidency, while Putin is keen for Moscow to play a bigger diplomatic role in the Middle East.