(Adds details, South Stream talks)
By Adrian Croft
BRUSSELS Jan 22 Russian natural gas export
monopoly Gazprom will hold more talks with the
European Commission on Thursday aimed at settling a European
Union antitrust investigation, Russia's ambassador to the EU
said on Wednesday.
The Brussels meeting between Russia's Deputy Energy Minister
Anatoly Yanovsky, a Gazprom representative and EU antitrust
officials will be the first since Gazprom offered last month to
settle an EU investigation into its business practices, a person
familiar with the matter said.
"On Gazprom, there is an antitrust investigation continuing
within the Commission, and Gazprom and the Russian government,
which is the key shareholder in Gazprom ... are involved in
certain discussions with the relevant departments of the
European Commission," Russian envoy Vladimir Chizhov told
"The next round of these discussions will be tomorrow and I
don't want to prejudge the outcome of course," he said.
Asked if they were close to a solution, he said: "We are
always close to solutions."
A spokesman for the European Commission declined comment.
The Commission is investigating Gazprom on suspicion it had
hindered the free flow of gas across Europe and imposed
excessive prices by linking the price of its gas to oil.
EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia expressed doubts
last week about Gazprom's proposal to settle the probe, telling
reporters he had not received any concrete offer from Gazprom
that might lead to the company settling the case without any
finding of infringement or a fine that could top $14.3 billion
or 10 percent of its 2012 turnover.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to travel to
Brussels next week for a twice-yearly summit with the EU.
While in Brussels on Thursday, Yanovsky will also meet the
new head of the European Commission's energy department,
Dominique Ristori, to discuss preparations for talks on another
dispute between Russia and the European Commission involving the
Gazprom-led South Stream gas link.
The European Commission and Russia agreed last week to set
up a working group to discuss legal and technical issues related
to the planned pipeline.
No timetable has yet been set for the working group's
meetings, a European Commission official said.
The European Commission has said South Stream cannot operate
on EU territory unless it complies with the bloc's energy law,
and it could take years to do so.
According to the law, an owner of resources cannot also own
the infrastructure through which they are shipped.
Russia has signed intergovernmental agreements with a number
of countries, including Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary and Italy, on
the South Stream pipeline, which from 2018 is projected to carry
63 billion cubic metres of gas a year from Russia via the bed of
the Black Sea.
Moscow argues that those agreements trump EU rules.
(Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Justyna
Pawlak and Jane Merriman)