Senior Russian officials, pundits discuss energy security
Russian Channel One, Mar 19
BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union
The weekly talk show "Vremena" broadcast on Russian Channel One on 19 March discussed the concept of energy security, which Russia has made the centerpiece of its G8 presidency. Regular anchor Vladimir Pozner chaired a studio discussion between Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Aleksandr Shokhin, chairman of the Russian Union of Oil and Gas Industrialists Yuriy Shafranik, political scientist Dmitriy Trenin of the Moscow Carnegie Centre and journalist Mikhail Leontyev.
Khristenko kicked off the discussion by trying to formulate what Russia meant by energy security. He said the world was heavily dependent on the energy sector, both in economic and in social terms; at the same time the sector had for years been the arena of turbulent events. He said Russia as a net exporter of energy had a lot to offer, but it also had its own interests, so there was a need to coordinate its interests with those of its partners, both in and outside the G8. When Pozner, claiming to play devil's advocate, suggested that Russia wanted to become an energy superpower in the same way as the USSR had been a military superpower, and that this understandably caused fear in other countries, Khristenko countered by saying that what caused fear and concern was uncertainty, whereas Russia was willing to debate to achieve certainty.
Shokhin recalled that Russia had not ratified the energy charter signed some 20 years ago and explained that until now the terms of the debate had been dictated by importers, which only focused on stable and secure supply, and thus demanded more open access to Russian resources and pipelines, whereas Russia as an exporter was now bringing into the debate the issue of predictable and secure demand.
Shafranik observed that, unlike in the 1970, the demand was now stable and ever rising.
Khristenko restated Shokhin's arguments, saying that what used to be a "global monologue of consumers" was now turning into a "global dialogue" of producers and consumers. He contrasted the EU's approach of limiting demand for oil and gas with the US approach of increasing supply. He indicated he was unhappy with the new EU rules to be introduced soon, under which no member state should receive more than 30 per cent of its energy from one source, implying that this was unfair on Russia, which traditionally supplied the energy needs of its European neighbours.
There followed a brief debate on the events of January 2006, when Russia hiked its gas price for Ukraine and limited supply when Ukraine refused to budge. Trenin said that what concerned the West was not the aim of raising the price to market levels, which no-one really objected to, but the methods that Russia's Gazprom used to achieve this aim. He said Russia's image suffered as a result.
Leontyev disagreed, saying what Russia was doing was turning energy into a tool to integrate into the world economy. He said Russia had made Europe an offer the latter could not refuse, namely "coalescence" of energy systems and, ultimately, the economies as a whole.
This was followed by a discussion on Russia's cooperation with Iran on nuclear energy. Khristenko said Russia has decided it would increase the share of nuclear power in its own energy production to 22-25 per cent by 2020, and realized that other countries might also want to use nuclear energy but did not have the capacity. "There is always a dilemma. Either we say that countries outside the nuclear club have no right in principle to peaceful nuclear energy, or we say they do have the right but the issue of nonproliferation has to be tackled," Khristenko said. He said the issue was not Iran but the general principle, and added that Russia had proposed a solution to this issue which was similar to one proposed by the USA.
Leontyev pointed out that Russia, unlike some other states, had never been guilty of proliferation of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction. He also said Iran may regard nuclear weapons as the last resort in protecting its sovereignty against US regime change plans. Trenin disagreed, saying there were no serious threats to Iran's sovereignty, and maintained that "Iran really supports terrorism". He added later that Russian and US initiatives on nuclear energy were very similar, and the two states could and should cooperate in this sphere for their own good and for the good of the rest of the world.
Shokhin said there was real competition on the world nuclear energy market - this view was backed by Khristenko. Shokhin said the Russian offer on Iran was quite similar to the US nuclear deal with India, which was also officially not a member of the nuclear club. He also said that what was needed was a common global strategy on nuclear energy.
On the question of whether Russia can become an advanced economy without shedding its reliance on its fuel resources, Khristenko said Russia should never feel ashamed of having more resources than other states, and was right to use this fact for its advantage. "This sector can and should develop, moreover, it can develop not only for its own sake but also so that Russia can realize its global strategic vision of its place in the world," he said. Other sectors can also benefit from the assets Russia accumulates thanks to its energy sector, he added.
Shafranik pointed out that to become an influential power, Russia will have to start increasing fuel production and double or treble the efficiency of use of its natural resources. Shokhin said Russia should certainly use its advantages, but also change the structure of its energy sector and its energy efficiency. Finally, Khristenko was asked to comment on US historian Richard Pipes' view that Russia and its people cannot find the right place for themselves in the international community, believing themselves to be unique and surrounded by enemies. Khristenko dismissed it a "myth", saying that all of Russia's recent actions clearly showed that it was not seeking self-isolation, but rather "coalescence and interpenetration in the most important and interesting sectors".
Source: Channel One TV, Moscow, in Russian 1500 gmt 19 Mar 06