Energy ministers to urge Putin to sign treaty on security of supply

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The Independent Online

Energy ministers from the G7 group of leading industrialised nations will put pressure on Russia today to ratify a treaty which could help prevent a repeat of the Ukraine gas crisis that halted supplies to Europe at the start of this year.

President Vladimir Putin will be urged to sign up to the energy charter treaty which provides for arbitration in the event of a dispute over energy supplies between countries.

Russia's state-owned gas producer Gazprom cut off supplies to Ukraine in January in a dispute over prices, sending shock waves through several European countries which are heavily dependent on Russian gas. Russia is the biggest supplier of oil and gas to the European Union and the EU is Russia's largest energy buyer.

Today's meeting in Moscow is the first to be chaired by Russia in its role as president of the G8 group and it has specifically chosen to make energy security the main theme for discussion.

Russia is not expected to agree to sign up to the treaty today. However, it is hoped the meeting will pave the way for it to become a signatory when the main summit of G8 leaders meets in St Petersburg in July.

Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is attending today's meeting on behalf of the UK, is expected to take the opportunity to discuss bilateral issues with the Russian energy minister Viktor Khristenko.

Russia supplies just 2 per cent of the UK's gas but this figure is set to rise rapidly in the next decade as the UK begins to run out of North Sea gas and becomes heavily dependent on imports. Gazprom has publicly declared its interest in building a large presence in the UK energy market and has indicated it might bid for Centrica, the owner of British Gas.

Mr Putin himself has also agreed to make time during the meeting to talk to the G8 gathering about energy matters. The energy charter treaty came into existence in 1994 and has 51 signatories. In addition to security of supply, it also sets out a framework for attracting investment and trade in energy products and promotes competition in energy markets.

In addition to the energy ministers, the meeting will also be attended by the EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs and the heads of various international bodies such as Opec, the World Bank and the International Energy Agency.

A spokesman for Mr Piebalgs said the EU and Russia must pursue a common energy security strategy. UK diplomatic sources said the events in January had given a fresh impetus to the efforts to get Russia to sign up to the treaty.