Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, appeared to agree a truce with France and Germany over the future of EADS, Europe’s leading aerospace and defence group, at the weekend in exchange for €10bn ($12.8bn, £6.7bn) of infrastructure projects and promises of closer co-operation on aerospace.
Alarm bells have been ringing in Paris and Berlin since a Russian state-owned bank said this month it had bought 5 per cent of EADS, which is jointly controlled by French and German interests. These worries intensified after an aide to Mr Putin said the stake could become a blocking minority.
But on Saturday, in the relaxed setting of an 18th-century chateau at Compiègne, north-east of Paris, Mr Putin was at pains to reassure French President Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel, German chancellor, that the investment was “not at all a sign of aggressive behaviour”.
“I want to put you all at ease,” Mr Putin told journalists at the informal Franco-German-Russian summit. “We do not have the intention of using this stake to change or influence the policy of EADS.” He said the bank had “taken advantage of favourable market conditions”.
He said Mr Chirac and Ms Merkel had agreed to set up a working group with Russia to examine ways of co-operating on space travel and aviation. The three leaders also stressed their common positions on Iran’s nuclear programme, the Lebanon ceasefire and Kosovo’s future.
Concern has been growing in Europe about Russia’s attempts to use its valuable energy resources as a political tool to boost its influence abroad. Russia supplies 30 per cent of Europe’s natural gas. Mr Putin stressed Moscow was a “stable and reliable” partner.
Mr Putin’s good relations with Mr Chirac were reinforced after the French president awarded him the grand-croix de la Légion d’Honneur, the highest distinction France can bestow on heads of state. But there was still an edge of menace about him on the fringes of the press conference, as he told journalists Europe was “afraid” of Russia because it was “big and rich”.
He also rejected European pressure for Moscow to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty, which would create a legal framework for the energy sector. Russia has signed the ECT but has been slow to ratify it.
French officials said Mr Chirac welcomed closer industrial co-operation with Russia in aerospace and transport. However, they stressed there was “no way” the EADS shareholder pact would be changed to give Moscow a seat on the board.
EADS is 22.3 per cent owned by DaimlerChrysler, the German automotive group, 15 per cent by the French state and 7.5 per cent by Lagardère, the French media group.