- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 23, 2009

MOSCOW | Russia and the European Union failed to agree Friday on measures to prevent another cutoff of gas supplies to Europe.

EU leaders said their summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev improved a relationship severely strained by Russia’s war with Georgia last summer and a winter gas cutoff of Russian supplies via Ukraine - but there were no major breakthroughs.

Tension over energy supplies and EU overtures to Russia’s neighbors was palpable. Mr. Medvedev warned that the EU’s strengthening ties with former Soviet states must not turn into an anti-Russian coalition.

The talks “increased our mutual trust, which is very much needed and very important,” Czech President Vaclav Klaus, whose country holds the EU presidency, told reporters after the summit in Khabarovsk, 3,800 miles east of Moscow.

While the tone was warmer than it was during edgy EU summits with Mr. Medvedev’s predecessor, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president sparred with the EU leaders over energy - a sensitive issue because Europe relies on Russia for a quarter of its natural gas imports.

Mr. Medvedev insisted that only Ukraine was to blame for the two-week cutoff that left millions in Europe without heat in January, and warned that further disruptions are possible if Ukraine cannot pay. Russia turned off the taps to Ukraine during a dispute over pricing and payments, prompting angry EU questions about Moscow’s reliability as a supplier.

Russia will offer no assurances that supplies would not be disrupted again, Mr. Medvedev said.

“What for? There are no problems on our side - everything is in order here,” he said.

He suggested the EU can only ensure reliable supplies by lending money to Ukraine to help it pay for gas.

“We have doubts about Ukraine’s ability to pay,” Mr. Medvedev said.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s energy adviser, Oleksandr Hudyma, said Ukraine is not in debt for gas and dismissed Mr. Medvedev’s warning. “There is no threat and there is no debt to Russia,” he said.

Mr. Medvedev reiterated Russia’s opposition to the EU-backed Energy Charter, saying Moscow has “no intention” of signing on to the energy security pact in its current form, and pressed for an alternative.

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU would consider Russia’s proposals, but stressed that the EU could only augment the Energy Charter, not replace it.

Mr. Barroso also made it clear that the EU thinks it is up to Russia, not just Ukraine, to ensure reliable gas supplies to Europe.

Mr. Barroso said Russia and the EU had made “some good progress” toward a new partnership agreement to strengthen ties and replace a formal pact that expired in 2007.

The EU suspended talks on the deal after Russia’s war with pro-Western Georgia in August, but announced in November that it was coming back to the table.

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