Putin says 'Niet' to EU anti-trust lawyers

12.09.12 @ 09:22

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Russian President Vladimir Putin has passed a law blocking Gazprom from normal co-operation with EU anti-trust officials.

  • Putin (r) at a meeting in Brussels last year (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Referring to potential EU-Gazprom exchange of information on alleged price-fixing, his new decree on Tuesday (11 September) "establishe[d] the obligation of a federal executive body to refuse permission to conduct the aforementioned activities if they are capable of damaging the economic interests of the Russian Federation."

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov in Moscow the same day told press the EU is trying to extort gas discounts.

"Right now a series of relatively weak EU economies are continuing to demand from Gazprom unilateral concessions on gas prices. You can't view this [the EU probe] as anything other than EC [European Community] support for Gazprom subsidies to eastern Europe. This is an attempt to solve the economic problems of the EC at Russia's cost," he said.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller also told Russian newswire Interfax the decree means EU energy firms will have to call the Kremlin instead of his office if they want price cuts.

"There is no need for them to turn to us anymore," he noted.

The European Commission announced its investigation last week, prompting a stream of abuse from the Russian side.

Russia's EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov said EU lawyers can investigate "life on Mars" for all he cares. Gazprom deputy chief Alexander Medvedev called the EU a "thief."

Putin himself said the move is a shake-down: "Someone in the European Commission decided that we must assume part of the burden of this subsidising [of EU countries]. United Europe wants to retain some political influence and wants us to pay for it."

For his part, EU competition chief Joaquin Almunia told press in Strasbourg on Tuesday the investigation will go ahead on technical grounds.

"We don't look at the nationality [of a suspect firm], or who the shareholders are, or whether it's a public or private company. What we are concerned with is the impact that business activities will have on our market," he noted.

Whether or not Gazprom co-operates with Almunia, commission staff last year snatched evidence in raids on Gazprom-linked offices in 10 EU countries.

They have also sent questionnaires to other energy firms in a procedure which could see price-fixing allegations multiply and increase a potential fine.

EU officials have not lost an abuse-of-dominance case in the Union's court in Luxembourg since 1958.

To add insult to injury, foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday lectured Russia in remarks to MEPs.

She said that "under Russian law" the three women in the Pussy Riot punk group who made fun of Putin should have been "sanctioned [for] a minor offence" instead of being jailed.

She also criticised new Russian legislation designed to make life harder for NGOs.

"The recent set of steps taken by the government sets the country on the wrong path and wastes the opportunity for effective modernisation and democratic development provided by the political awakening of Russia's new middle classes," Ashton said.

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