Royal Dutch Shell Group .com

Moscow Times: President Talks Trade in Holland:  "Royal Dutch Shell has invested heavily in developing oil and gas fields around Sakhalin Island, a project that has been plagued by cost overruns. ": Wednesday, November 2, 2005. Issue 3287. Page 1.


By Arthur Max
The Associated Press


Peter Dejong / AP

Queen Beatrix welcoming President Putin at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Tuesday. Behind the queen is her son, Crown Prince Willem Alexander, and behind Putin are his wife, Lyudmila, and Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot.

AMSTERDAM -- President Vladimir Putin began a two-day visit Tuesday to the Netherlands, during which Dutch leaders and industrialists are expected to explore ways of increasing business with the booming Russian energy industry.

The visit is the first by a Russian head of state in 130 years and will include talks with Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and a visit to the Peace Palace, seat of the UN's International Court of Justice.

Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, were welcomed by Queen Beatrix and her son, Crown Prince Willem Alexander, at the airport, from where they drove to the royal palace in Amsterdam. Putin walked across Dam Square to pay respects to Dutch war victims at the national monument. Police had sealed off the square in the center of the Dutch capital hours before.

Putin met Tuesday with business leaders at the Amsterdam mayor's residence, visited a house in Zaandam, a town where Peter the Great spent several months in 1697 studying Dutch shipbuilding, and attended a state banquet with Queen Beatrix at the Noordeinde palace in The Hague.

Putin was repaying a 2001 state visit by Queen Beatrix. He had been due to visit in 2002, but the trip was postponed when terrorists seized 800 hostages at Moscow's Dubrovka theater in a siege that ended with 170 people dead.


Although Putin has made business trips to the Netherlands before, it is the first state visit by a Russian leader since Tsar Alexander II in 1874.

Putin met Balkenende in The Hague a year ago, when the Netherlands held the European Union presidency, and the two had a sharp exchange when Balkenende raised human rights issues in Russia's war in Chechnya.

An irritated Putin reportedly responded by questioning the Dutch leader about problems with the Muslim community in the Netherlands.

Talks between the two leaders this time were likely to skirt contentious issues and focus on developing economic ties. But armed conflict in the Caucasus will at least figure in talks between Foreign Ministers Ben Bot and Sergei Lavrov, with the Dutch voicing concern that the conflicts are getting closer as the EU's borders expand.

Political talks will also touch on Iran and its nuclear program, officials said.

The Dutch gas company Gasunie is reported to be seeking a greater role in transporting Russian gas to Europe. Royal Dutch Shell has invested heavily in developing oil and gas fields around Sakhalin Island, a project that has been plagued by cost overruns.

In an interview with Dutch reporters before his departure, Putin noted that trade ties with the Netherlands began with Peter the Great more than 300 years ago and have developed despite the countries' difference in size.

He said that trade turnover between the two countries was $16.6 billion last year, while Russia's trade with giant India was less than $5 billion.

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