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Energy Security Touches G8 Nerves
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Amid recent soaring oil and gas prices, leaders from the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries are hoping to reach some consensus at their annual summit on how to control and manage insufficient energy resources in the world.

Oil price briefly surpassed US$78 a barrel on Friday and finished four percent higher for the last week after Israeli attacks against Lebanon-backed Hezbollah militants stoked fears of a wider Middle East conflict and a possible oil-supply disruption.

The price hike will likely further stress the relationship between energy suppliers and their big clients, most of them G8 members.

As the summit host, Russian President Vladimir Putin put energy security at the top of the official agenda.

"We believe it is crucial to find a solution to a problem which directly influences the social and economic development of all countries," Putin said.

Putin chose energy security not just because it is important in its own right but also because it is one of the few areas of global concerns in which Russia is still a major player, some analysts say.

Among G8, Russia is the smallest one measured by economic size. However, Russia holds the world's largest reserves of natural gas and remains the second-largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia.

The country is currently extracting just a fraction of its reserves, estimated at 50 trillion cubic meters of gas and 75 billion barrels of oil. Now around one quarter of gas and 18 percent of oil consumed in Europe are imported from Russia.

Russia is an energy superpower, a point Putin will no doubt seek to emphasize during the summit.

However, the summit also provides an occasion for Europe and the United States to remind Russia of not using the energy weapon as a tool of foreign policy.

The Kremlin came under criticism in May from US Vice President Dick Cheney for using its energy reserves as "tools of intimidation and blackmail," hinting at Russia's cutting off gas supply to its neighboring Ukraine in January.

At this summit, the United States and the European Union (EU) are expected to press Russia to renounce any aggressive use of the "energy weapon" and commit itself to opening its oil and gas fields to Western investment.

Putin, however, has accused the West of practicing double standards. He claims that Russia has proved itself a reliable energy supplier for Europe over the past 50 years.

The Russian president has also argued that, to promote energy security, Russian gas company Gazprom must be allowed to expand deeper into Europe rather than be met with political intervention.

Russian officials are complaining that the Western countries only want Russia to be a safe and reliable energy supplier but Russia deserves much more.

Obviously, Russia and other G8 countries are widely divided on the definition of energy security. "Russia wants to achieve security of demand, but the others in the group want security of supply," said EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

G8 includes four EU member states -- Britain, France, Germany and Italy -- as well as the United States, Canada and Japan.

The G8 leaders are expected to sign a document pledging cooperation on enhancing international energy security. However, Russia's differences with the West over energy will not be so easily overcome, analysts warn.

(Xinhua News Agency July 17, 2006)

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