March 1, 2006

Putin puts energy security at heart of G8 presidency

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin called on
Wednesday for efforts to reduce instability in world energy
markets as he set out the agenda for Russia's presidency this
year of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

Putin will host U.S. President George W. Bush and other G8
leaders at a summit in his home town of St. Petersburg in July
to crown Russia's first stint chairing the rich nations' group.

Keen to underline Russia's role as an energy superpower,
Putin said in an article published on Wednesday that he wanted
energy security to take center stage at the meeting.

"Instability in hydrocarbon markets poses today a real
threat to global energy supply," Putin said in a 1,700-word
article in the Izvestia newspaper.

"The gap between supply and demand is widening."

Kremlin officials see the G8 presidency as an affirmation
of Russian geopolitical clout after the chaos of the 1990s and
the fall of the Soviet Union.

Russia took over the rotating presidency of the club, which
includes the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, France,
Britain and Italy, at the start of the year.

Brushing aside concerns about Moscow's record on democracy,
Putin has said critics must accept that Russia, with a booming
economy and flush with oil cash, is a dynamic player in the
world economy.

One of the world's biggest oil and gas producers, Russia
was criticized by other G8 countries early this year when it
shut off gas to Ukraine during a row over pricing, disrupting
European supplies.

Putin said "energy egotism was a road to nowhere" and
called for efforts to ensure energy security.

He argued that a stable energy policy had to reflect broad
international interests, not just those of wealthy nations.

"We will strive to form a system of energy security which
would take into account the interests of the whole world,"
Putin wrote.

At more than $60 a barrel, oil is roughly twice as dear as
it was two years ago, though prices are still below record
levels hit after the Arab oil embargo, Iranian revolution and
Iran-Iraq war in the mid-1970's and early 1980s.

Other items on the G8 2006 agenda fixed by Russia are
fighting infectious diseases and education.

Putin said Russia would press for an operational plan to
fight avian flu and "avert a new pandemic of human influenza."