Energy, politics focus of Medvedev's Mediterranean tour

5th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday begins a three-day Mediterranean tour during which he will seek to forge closer economic and political ties with Algeria and EU member Cyprus.

On Wednesday, Algeria will welcome the Kremlin chief with a 21-gun salute -- the highest honour for a foreign dignitary -- as Medvedev will arrive in Algiers for energy and arms talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and other top officials.

Russia's ties to the North African energy giant date back to the Soviet era when Moscow was the main supplier of arms to the nation.

The two countries are also part of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, a loose grouping of major gas-producing countries that some call the gas equivalent of the OPEC oil cartel.

"Algeria is one of our largest partners with whom we are connected by very deep and rich history," Medvedev's top foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said, adding the leaders will discuss political and energy cooperation.

"A discussion on how to further deepen polical dialogue is expected to become an important part of the upcoming talks," Prikhodko told reporters.

"The sides attach special significance to the prospects of developing closer cooperation in the energy sphere, including on the global gas market within the Gas Exporting Countries Forum."

Prikhodko said that taking into account Algeria's massive gas reserves it was important for Gazprom, the world's largest gas producer, and Algeria's state-owned oil and gas company Sonatrach to cooperate including on European markets.

Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller was to accompany the Kremlin chief to the country.

In 2006, Gazprom and Sonatrach signed a cooperation agreement but ties have remained modest so far.

Last year, Gazprom received a 49-percent stake in a project to prospect for oil in the Berkine basin in Algeria and started drilling there earlier this year.

The two countries' delegations, which will include head of aircraft maker Irkut Oleg Demchenko, will discuss arms cooperation although no new deals were expected to be signed this time, Prikhodko said.

Military ties have in recent years been clouded by Algeria's complaints over the Russian-made arms' poor quality, a claim Prikhodko said was largely "justified."

During a trip by Medvedev's predecessor at the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin to Algiers in 2006 Russia wrote off Algeria's Soviet-era debt in exchange for arms purchases.

Medvedev was also set to fete those killed during the Algerian war for independence from France and oversee the signing of several agreements including on cooperation in the sphere of maritime transport.

From Algeria Medvedev will head to Cyprus for a two-day visit, a first by any Russian president.

The visit at the invitation of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias -- himself a Russian speaker -- is seen as a "landmark" event in relations both economically and politically.

The two leaders will oversee the signing of a double taxation avoidance agreement and address a business forum in the capital Nicosia, Cypriot officials said.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north of the island in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup aimed at union with Greece.

The government of Greek Cypriots represents the island in the European Union. Moscow is viewed as Nicosia's closest ally on the 'Cyprus problem' and its most significant economic trading partner.

© 2010 AFP

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