Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

Russia invites Europe to join new energy charter

Russia has floated plans for a new global treaty on trade in fossil and nuclear fuel in an attempt to consign to history an earlier pact, the 1991 Energy Charter Treaty.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev unveiled the project at a press conference with Finnish head of state Tarja Hallonen in Helsinki on Monday (20 April).

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  • Mr Medvedev launched the new project in Helsinki on Monday (Photo: kremlin.ru)

"Our task today is to maintain, or rather ensure for the future, the balance of producers of energy resources, transit states and consumers of energy resources," he said.

A detailed paper has been sent to G20 and G8 members as well as Russia's allies and neighbours. Talks at the EU level are to begin "as soon as possible."

The new pact is to cover oil, gas, nuclear fuel, coal and electricity and to include the US, China and India as well as European countries.

It is aimed at replacing the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), which gives legal protection to Western energy investors in the former Soviet bloc and sets out rules on gas transit.

The charter has 51 signatories, including the EU states and Russia. But Russia has not ratified it, saying it gives an unfair advantage to Western firms.

"We have not ratified these documents and do not consider ourselves bound by them," Mr Medvedev said.

The new initiative has a bearing on a major lawsuit in The Hague, where shareholders of the bankrupt Yukos oil firm have attacked Russia on the basis of the 1991 charter.

Russia broke up and sold off Yukos five years ago after its CEO tried to mount a political challenge.

"Russia cannot unilaterally cancel the ECT," the ex-Yukos side's lawyer, Tim Osborne, told EUobserver. "The [arbitration] tribunal will decide whether or not Russia is provisionally bound, not Russia."

Mr Medvedev's project could also impact EU-Russia negotiations on a new bilateral treaty, which was supposed to preserve the legal "principles" of the ECT.

Analyst Pierre Noel of the European Council on Foreign Relations says Russia and Germany have worked together on the new global pact, which is likely to have Berlin's support.

But he predicted the agreement will be too vague to improve EU energy security.

"A treaty is only worth signing if it limits the room for manoeuvre of the people signing it. This is what the ECT is," he said. "The Russians want to put on the table a treaty that will not constrain anyone."

"They want to be free in the way they treat investors," Mr Noel added.

The Nord Stream question

The Medvedev-Hallonen meeting also saw Finland withhold support for the Nord Stream gas pipeline for the time being.

Ms Hallonen said Helsinki will in June give more details on its evaluation of the Russian-German pipeline's potential ecological impact on the Baltic Sea.

Russian analysts say Finland is using the ecology card to secure better rates on timber imports from Russia for its pulp and paper companies.

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