NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia – Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that European demands for access to Russian energy assets were unfair.
"We assess that as a way to force us to make unilateral steps to satisfy our partners but not fully taking into account Russian economic interests," Putin said, adding that Russia should get a share in European energy assets in return. "There will be no unilateral moves."
Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly OAO Gazprom has complete control of gas exports and so faces no competition from independent producers. The European Union has pressured Russia to offer European companies broader access to gas fields and export pipelines to reduce Gazprom's ability to charge monopolist rents on gas transported from Russia and the former Soviet Union.
"In fact, our friends in Europe and other states are asking us to let them into the heart of our economy," Putin told a group of media executives from the Group of Eight nations at his residence outside Moscow. "But then you should also let us into the most important sectors of your economies."
An April deal between Gazprom and Germany chemical maker BASF, under which the latter got a share in a Russian gas field in exchange for giving the Russians a share in its gas distribution network, was a good example for the future, he said.
"This is a very good example of cooperation, which takes it to a new level of trust," Putin said.
"We have resources and we offer them, you need them, so let us search for solutions that would increase the level of trust and lead toward long-term and stable cooperation for decades ahead. It's possible and we want that," Putin said.
Separately, Gazprom board chairman Dmitry Medvedev, who is also first deputy prime minister, told a group of foreign journalists that the acquisition by Gazprom of European assets "should not frighten Europe" because it would mean closer integration.
Putin blamed Ukraine for a brief suspension of Russian energy supplies to the West in January, which shocked the Europeans and encouraged them to search for alternative supply routes.
"Our friends (in the West) actively supported the Orange events in Ukraine," Putin said in a reference to the 2004 Orange Revolution that paved the way for the victory of Western-leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
"If you want to further support developments there, you pay for that," he said, the color rising in his face.
He said Russia had been spending $3 billion to $5 billion a year to subsidize cheap gas supplies for Ukraine and no longer is willing to do that.
The New Year's shutdown, which was followed by gas shortages during a harsh winter, came as Russia declared energy security to be a top priority of its leadership this year of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.
Amid European concerns, Medvedev played down a warning from Gazprom last month that it could turn to other markets including Asia to sell its gas if Europe restricts the company's expansion plans.
"Nobody has talked about turning the valves away from Europe and toward Asia," he said, stressing that Gazprom will honor all its contracts. However, he added that the company must look to all potential markets as it plots its future.