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Putin says no link between energy and foreign policy - 1

Russia's president said Thursday his country did not link its energy policy with political cooperation with its partners.
(Recasts, adds additional information, background in paragraphs 3-20)

MOSCOW, May 31 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's president said Thursday his country did not link its energy policy with political cooperation with its partners.

Vladimir Putin told a news conference following talks with his Greek counterpart, Karolos Papoulias, "Our position is open, absolutely transparent and market-based for all our partners, regardless of current political relations."

"In our economic relations, we intend to depoliticize all our contacts. But what is still more important is that we, through agreement with the European Union, are switching to equal price formation principles within the country," Putin said.

At the talks in the Kremlin, the presidents focused on energy security, an oil pipeline from the Black Sea to Europe, bilateral military and trade cooperation, and Russian-Greek trade.

Papoulias also held talks with Russia's prime minister, at which he suggested building a natural gas pipeline, jointly with Russia, parallel the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, which will bypass the crowded Turkish Straits.

"Greece proposes to Russia building a gas pipeline on a route duplicating the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline-laying route," Papoulias told Mikhail Fradkov.

The visit of the Greek president is a follow-up to Putin's visit to Greece on March 15, which saw the long-delayed signing of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline.

Putin said the Burgas-Alexandroupolis project would be implemented in the near future.

The 280-kilometer (175-mile) pipeline, whose cost is estimated at about 1 billion euros ($1.34 billion) will carry Russian oil via the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas and Greece's Alexandroupolis on the Aegean to Europe, the U.S., and the Asia-Pacific region. Earlier reports said the pipeline could be commissioned in late 2010 or early 2011.

In answer to journalists' questions on energy security, Putin said the issue had been thoroughly discussed at last year's Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg.

"This is an important issue for world security, the economy as a whole, and several issues need to be resolved here," he said, specifying that there should be equal responsibility for suppliers and consumers of energy resources as well as transit nations, and that energy deliveries to key consumers should be diversified.

"Our impression is that we have a common understanding with our Greek partners on what energy security is," the Russian leader said.

Moscow's reliability as Europe's main energy supplier came under question in early January when a dispute between Russia and neighboring Belarus led to a three-day interruption of oil deliveries to Poland, Germany and other European consumers.

Minsk had imposed a transit fee on Europe-bound crude exports in retaliation for a hike in the natural gas price Moscow charged Belarus. Moscow accused Minsk of illegally tapping the transit pipeline, and shut down oil deliveries until an agreement was reached through emergency negotiations.

The dispute recalled a natural gas spat with Ukraine early in 2006, when Russia briefly suspended gas supplies, affecting consumers in Europe after Ukraine started siphoning Russian gas transited through its territory and intended for European countries.

Putin said Greece is one of Russia's priority partners in the energy sphere, and that he hopes the feeling is mutual. "We already mentioned that Russia covers 40% of Greece's oil demand, and 80% of its natural gas requirements," he said.

The two leaders positively assessed military and trade cooperation. "Our military-technical cooperation is proceeding very well," the Greek leader said, and Putin signaled his agreement.

Putin said Russia and Greece are aiming to further expand and diversify partnership, adding that tourism played a significant role of bilateral cooperation, with more than 250,000 Russian tourists visiting Greece annually.

The Russian leader also said bilateral trade could be increased. "On the whole, we are satisfied with the development of trade and economic cooperation. Trade last year grew by over 30% reaching more than $3 billion. I agree with your assessment that it is of course very little," Putin said.

The Greek president called Russia a great European power, and invited Putin to visit his country. "I invited Vladimir Putin and hope he will visit our country again," Papoulias said.

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