- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin said yesterday that any attempts to discriminate against Moscow in its negotiations to join the World Trade Organization would bring tougher terms for foreign companies seeking access to Russian markets — a policy that could affect U.S. oil companies hoping to develop a natural-gas field.

“If you discriminate against us in the WTO, you can’t expect us to welcome you with open arms,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

But Mr. Peskov denied that the Kremlin was announcing a direct link between American companies’ potential participation in development of the Shtokman gas field and talks with the United States on Russia’s WTO entry. The statement was intended to reflect Kremlin policy, “in general,” he said.

Russian natural-gas monopoly OAO Gazprom is examining offers from five companies, including U.S. companies Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips, on joining in developing the 130 trillion cubic-foot gas field in the Barents Sea.

Gazprom has said it would choose two to three partners in the coming days, but Interfax quoted Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko as saying the company would announce the partners in the summer.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov denied any link between Shtokman and the WTO talks. He said the company would choose partners based on the best offers from foreign companies.

“Nothing has changed here,” he said, according to Dow Jones.

Gazprom also is considering the involvement of France’s Total SA, and Norway’s Statoil ASA and Norsk Hydro ASA.

Agreeing with the U.S. on joining the WTO is among the final major hurdles for Russian membership. In March, President Vladimir Putin charged the U.S. was raising groundless demands.

With Mr. Putin’s Kremlin increasing state control over Russia’s vast oil and gas reserves and ties between Russia and the United States strained by U.S. concerns that he is backtracking on democracy and human rights, U.S. hopes for a major increase in energy cooperation with Russia have not been realized.

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