* EU rules restrict Gazprom's pipeline ownership
* Putin once referred to the EU rules as "robbery"
* Russian foreign minister says EU wants new concessions
By Gleb Bryanski
MOSCOW, Sept 27 Russia is likely to contest
European Union energy rules at the World Trade Organization in
what would be its first trade dispute since it joined the global
body, a government source said on Thursday.
The rules, known as the Third Energy Package, restrict gas
company Gazprom's control over its European pipeline
assets and have been an irritant in relations between Russia and
the EU, which accounts for half of Russia's trade.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Russia
- which joined the WTO last month - was looking into whether
the EU rules were subject to WTO regulations and that the study
should be completed in two weeks.
"If the WTO rules are applicable to the Third Energy
Package, as well as other measures restricting the Russian
imports, we will contest them at the WTO," the source said.
"In all likelihood it is (subject to WTO rules)."
Once a WTO member initiates a trade dispute, the country
with which it is in disagreement has 60 days to resolve the
complaint. After the 60-day period, the complainant can ask the
WTO to set up a dispute panel to adjudicate on the issue.
Trade diplomats say they expect Russia will take some time
to settle in at the WTO before engaging in disputes, as China
did after it joined in 2001, but others are watching to see
whether Russia or one of its trading partners throws the first
Russia's trade team in Geneva is not yet fully up and
running as no ambassador has been appointed yet.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who returned to the
Kremlin in May, called the Third Energy Package "robbery" when
he was prime minister but this month dismissed a suggestion that
Russia was entering a trade war with Europe over Gazprom.
FLOW OF GAS
The European Commission, the EU executive, is investigating
suspected anti-competitive practices by Gazprom, which is more
than 50 percent owned by the Russian state.
The anti-trust case focuses on complaints that Gazprom is
hindering the flow of gas and mistreating its customers by
linking the price of gas to oil.
Russia joined the WTO in August after an 18-year wait. Putin
has said his country will use its membership to try to develop
freer trade and is hoping it will boost Russia's energy-driven
$1.9 trillion economy.
Speaking at the G20 summit in Mexico, Putin spoke strongly
against disguising protectionist measures as environmental and
Europe's Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, threatened to
take Russia to the WTO over a string of restrictive practices on
Sept. 7, saying Moscow needed to play by the rules now it was a
member of the global body.
De Gucht criticised Russia's plans to levy scrappage fees on
imported vehicles, a ban on European live animal imports, two
anti-dumping cases and another trade defence case launched by
Moscow against Europe in recent months.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said the trade
disputes have affected work on a framework partnership agreement
which Russia is due to sign with the EU.
"There are glitches on many fronts, including work on the
new framework agreement, where our partners would like to fish
for a lot more concessions compared with what has been agreed
during the WTO accession negotiations," Lavrov told reporters in
New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.