Putin rails against Western 'double standards'

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The Independent Online

President Vladimir Putin accused the West yesterday of hypocrisy and double standards over its concerns about expansion by Russian energy companies overseas.

"When it's coming to us, it's investment and globalisation, and when we intend to arrive - it's the expansion of Russian companies," Mr Putin said at a joint news conference with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. "We should agree on common rules of the game."

On the eve of Ms Merkel's arrival in the Siberian city of Tomsk, Mr Putin had called for Russia to expand into new energy markets in Asia and accused other nations of trying to hem in Moscow, although he assured Europe that it could rely on its Russian gas contracts. He said: "We hear statements about a threat of dependence on Russia, about the need to restrict Russian companies' access to European markets. But you must understand us too, and try to look at things from our position. What can we do, when we hear the same thing every day? We are beginning to look for other markets."

Mr Putin's comments follow disquiet expressed over plans by Gazprom to buy distribution assets in the West, including the Russian gas giant's expressed interest in Britain's Centrica.

It also emerged yesterday that the London Stock Exchange had taken the highly unusual step of writing to Mr Putin, on behalf of a man who has invested heavily in Russia. Clara Furse, the chief executive of the LSE, warned the Russian leader that the country's decision not to allow Bill Browder into the country could do "significant damage to Russia's reputation".

Mr Browder heads the Moscow-based Hermitage Capital Management, the largest portfolio investor in Russia. Mr Browder who was born in the US but is a British citizen, was turned away from Moscow airport in November and he has not been allowed back since.

Ms Furse, in her direct appeal to Mr Putin, wrote: "If the single largest investor in the Russian market can be arbitrarily denied entry into the country, that would send a very negative signal to other parties seeking to invest in Russian companies."

The intervention of the LSE comes at a particularly sensitive time for Russia, as state-controlled Rosneft prepared to list on the London market.

Mr Browder, who is now living in London, has consistently raised awkward questions about corporate governance standards and corrupt practices at Russian companies, which are often controlled by the state or run by political cronies.