Russia Warns Not to 'Discriminate' in WTO

Other News Materials 18 May 2006 18:29 (UTC +04:00)

(AP) - The Kremlin said Thursday that any attempts to "discriminate" against Moscow in its negotiations to join the World Trade Organization would bring tougher terms for foreign companies seeking access to Russian markets -- a policy that could affect U.S. oil companies hoping to develop a massive natural gas field, reports Trend.

"In general, if you discriminate against us in the WTO, you can't expect us to welcome you with open arms," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

But Peskov denied that the Kremlin was announcing a direct link between American companies' potential participation in development of the Shtokman gas field and talks with the United States on Russia's WTO entry. The statement was intended to reflect Kremlin policy "in general," he said.

Russian natural gas monopoly OAO Gazprom is currently examining offers from five companies, including U.S. giants Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips, on joining in developing the 3.7-trillion cubic-meter (130 trillion cubic-foot) gas field in the Barents Sea.

Gazprom has said it would choose two to three partners in the coming days, but the Interfax news agency quoted Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko as saying the company would announce the partners in the summer.

Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov denied any link between Shtokman and the WTO talks. He said the company would choose partners based on the best offers from foreign companies. "Nothing has changed here," he said, according to Dow Jones.

Gazprom is also considering the involvement of France's Total SA, and Norway's Statoil ASA and Norsk Hydro ASA.

Reaching an agreement with the U.S. on joining the WTO is among the final major hurdles for Russian WTO membership. In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed frustration at the pace of negotiations, charging the U.S. with coming up with groundless demands that were hindering talks. Russia first applied for membership of the WTO in 1994.

With Putin's Kremlin increasing state control over Russia's vast oil and gas reserves and ties between Russia and the United States strained by American concerns that he is backtracking on democracy and human rights, U.S. hopes for a major increase in energy cooperation with Russia's have not been realized.

Senior Kremlin aide Igor Shuvalov linked progress in WTO talks with foreign access to Russian markets during a closed-door briefing in Washington in April, Peskov said, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

Shortly after Shuvalov's trip to the United States, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, William Burns, met with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller to discuss U.S. companies' potential role in Shtokman, according to a Gazprom statement at the time.

Shuvalov's comments came at a time when a series of "new demands which haven't been made to other countries" were being made against Russia by the U.S. in WTO talks, Peskov said, but he indicated the sides had moved closer toward an agreement since April. "Negotiations are now going well," he said.