Russian President Vladimir Putin meets senior European Union officials on Thursday for a Black Sea summit marked by tensions over the security of natural gas supplied by the energy giant Gazprom.
President Vladimir Putin could take Russia's vast energy resources elsewhere
"Energy security will be high on the list of subjects," said Vladimir Shizhov, Russia's ambassador to Brussels, ahead of around three hours of EU-Russia talks in the resort city of Sochi.
Since the Russia-Ukraine gas crisis in January, when Gazprom turned off the taps in a price war and hit supplies being piped through to Western Europe, concerns about energy security have spiraled into a war of words.
The EU, the world's second largest energy market and which imports about 20 percent of its natural gas needs from Russia, wants reassurances that the problem will not be repeated in the future.
But with Brussels, on a widespread drive to boost competition, also expressing concern about Gazprom's monopoly position, Russia wants reassurances of continuing demand for its resources in 10 or 20 years.
EU plan to limit Russian dependence irking Putin
"We are constantly hearing about some threat of dependence on Russia, that something must be done to limit the entry of Russian companies into the European market," Putin said last month. "What are we supposed to do when we hear the same thing every day? We start looking for other markets."
"When we continually hear the same thing, we perceive this as a threat to limit our admittance to the market and we begin to look for other outlets," he said.
The Russia-Ukraine gas crisis, coupled with the heightened rhetoric, exposed gaping weaknesses in EU energy policy and highlighted the powerful influence that natural resources can have on foreign policy.
Barroso wants to secure Russian energy for the EU
Analysts say it also revealed a newfound confidence in Moscow under Putin, who will meet Thursday with European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.
"They've been saying all this for years. What is different is that they are now saying it in a loud voice," said Dov Lynch, head of EU-Russia relations at the EU institute of security studies.
"What has changed is that the EU has become conscious of how urgent the energy security problem is and the rise in confidence in Russia on this issue," he said.
Officials in Brussels believe that energy issues could be included from next year in the EU-Russia partnership, created in 1996 and currently being renegotiated.
Europeans want transparency, competition, reciprocity
Europe fears a repeat of Gazprom's show of strength in Ukraine
But the EU's spokeswoman on external relations, Emma Udwin, said Europe's concerns about the Gazprom monopoly will have to be taken into account. "We are underlining that if a deeper energy partnership is going to be part of this new agreement, it should be governed by the same kind of principles that govern our economic partnership," she told reporters on Tuesday.
"It means transparency, it means competition and it means reciprocity."
"This is a two-way street. It is true that Russia is a very, very important supplier for the EU ... but it is also the case that we are not just a customer for Russia, we are at the present time the customer for Russia," she said.
Apart from laying the cornerstones for their new partnership agreement, the only concrete development that is likely in Sochi is the signing of an accord easing visa requirements between Brussels and Moscow.