Russia monitoring EU anti-trust probe of Gazprom: Putin
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Monday that Russia would carefully monitor an unprecedented anti-trust probe launched by the European Union against its powerful natural gas monopoly Gazprom.
Putin's comments came as Gazprom announced plans to launch its new Nord Stream pipeline to Europe on November 8 that will further enhance ties with EU nations that already get nearly a third of their gas from Russia.
The Gazprom meeting marked Putin's first official response to a pricing dispute that threatens to dominate Russian-EU relations on his expected return to the Kremlin in March.
Gazprom had previously confirmed that raids were conducted last week against the offices of its European subsidiary companies and trading partners while saying little else.
The European Commission said the raids were launched over concerns about possible anti-competitive practices in breach of EU anti-trust rules.
Putin demanded to know whether EU nations had arrested any Gazprom or other officials as part of their raids.
"No, Vladimir Vladimirovich, they have not arrested anyone yet," Gazprom chief Alexei Miller in comments aired on national television.
"Thank God," Putin replied.
His comments appeared aimed at underscoring the importance he personally attached to the investigation.
Gazprom is already waging another war of words over prices with Ukraine and was recently informed that it was not getting a long-term contract renewed by its old trading partner Turkey.
German and other European firms have also threatened to seek arbitration in a bid to reduce prices set into long-term Russian contracts that are now more expensive than the spot price of gas.
"The Russian government will be carefully monitoring what is happening around Gazprom. I ask you to report on this in a timely manner," Putin told Miller.
Miller called the searches "completely unexpected" while promising to cooperate fully with the investigation.
The raids come during a new push by Europe to re-examine its dependence on Russian energy that threatens to grow even stronger with the introduction of new Gazprom pipelines.
Miller said the latest addition -- a Baltic Sea project that runs directly to Germany while bypassing troubled transit country Ukraine -- would deliver its first supplies early next month.
"It will happen on November 8," Miller told Putin.
Miller added that Gazprom was pushing ahead with plans to complete a second Nord Steam line running parallel to the first that will double the link's total capacity.
"We have already built 700 kilometres (435 miles) -- this is about 60 percent," Miller said.
© 2011 AFP