Putin Speaks Out on Europe

11/13/2011 08:43

WSJ:  Vladimir Putin, Russia’s once and future president, excoriated European energy policies, called on the European Central Bank to step in to halt the euro zone debt crisis and delivered a eulogy for outgoing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

At a dinner lasting two-and-a-half hours with academics, foreign-policy specialists and journalists at a luxurious restaurant at an equestrian center on the outskirts of Moscow, Mr. Putin became animated as he attacked European energy policies. “We think we are being squeezed out of the European energy market,” he said.

The Russian prime minister was asked how he reacted to developments that included a new European Union energy package that forbids gas suppliers from owning pipelines—a direct attack on the business model in Europe of the Russian state gas monopoly Gazprom—and raids by European competition authorities on Gazprom offices.

The new EU policy was introduced without consultation with Russia. Foreign investors had ploughed in money and signed contracts—and then “you changed the laws and say now let’s live by new rules.”

“Relations in this area should be stable and should be enshrined in contacts. The [new] energy package annihilates the long-term programs,” he said.

The rhetorical battle over this issue seems to be hotting up. Mr. Putin was speaking a day after EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger told the European Parliament that Russia is using natural gas as a weapon in international relations. “Putin is not interested in having a new Red Army, he sees energy as being his weapon,” he told an event at the European Parliament. The EU has to recognize that quickly and react jointly, he said.

Mr. Putin, who has hosted these gatherings of the Valdai Club group annually since 2004, showed he was closely following developments in the euro-zone debt crisis.

He said the resources of the euro zone’s bailout fund and the International Monetary Fund were not large enough to muster the €1.5 trillion necessary to prevent the crisis from worsening. “For Italy to go down, that would be a catastrophe,” he said.

“We are very much hoping that the European Central Bank will intervene directly. I don’t think this would lead to any catastrophic rise in inflation.”

He reserved his warmest words for Mr. Berlusconi, providing a rare public voice in support of the Italian chief of government who is preparing to depart office. Mr. Berlusconi is “one of the last Mohicans of European politics,” said Mr. Putin, suggesting that Mr. Berlusconi’s relationships with women were aimed at just attracting attention.

Mr. Putin said he had once been told by Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, that Mr. Berlusconi was a good man but “not a politician.”

“He’s an anarchist, and Italy is an anarchic country,” Mr. Putin said, adding, perhaps as an afterthought, that he was joking.

Mr. Berlusconi had been good for stability in Italy and had built relationships inside and outside Europe, including with Russia.

“What I most like about him is that he’s an open person,” Mr. Putin said. Then, in an aside which suggests he feels less warmly toward other European leaders, he added: “I don’t want offend anybody but there are not many people like that in European politics.”

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