EU-Russia summit reveals differences rather than agreement

EU-Russia summit reveals differences rather than agreement

After tension between Brussels and Moscow seemed to constantly be on the rise over energy, the Caucasus and the influence in Eastern Europe, both sides saw it fit to stress that after all, there's mutual interest in good ties and successful cooperation. The talks helped to bridge gaps, Czech President Vaclav Klaus said on Friday.

"This meeting has strengthened mutual trust, which is important," he said.

The Czech Republic currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Along with Klaus, the summit saw EU commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and the bloc's foreign policy chief Javier Solana sit down with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and several cabinet ministers.

"There are no doubts today about the strategic character of the ties between Russia and the European Union", the Russian president said.

But those mutual reassurances between the EU and the Kremlin were hardly backed up by the results on the ground. Already the choice of location was seen by many as a friendly warning to the EU. The leaders met in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, some 8,000 kilometres from Brussels and just off the border with China suggesting that Russia has plenty of options other than Europe to do business and trade energy with.
Conflicting visions of Europe

Russia Georgia South Ossetia The general mistrust between the two sides remains. The EU is as strongly opposed as ever to Moscow flexing its muscles in the Caucasus whereas Russia in turn has condemned the EU's so called "Eastern Partnership" launched only a few weeks ago in Prague. While Brussels wants to strengthen its ties with its eastern neighbours, Russia sees the move as an intrusion into its traditional sphere of influence.

"We do not want the Eastern Partnership to turn into a partnership against Russia," Medvedev warned. "I'll put it succinctly. We tried to convince ourselves but in the end we couldn't."

The EU in turn is suspiciously eying Russia's suggestion of a new European security architecture which some critics say is an attempt to push back NATO and US influence in Europe.
A new energy framework?

The negotiations on energy policy rendered equally little results. Russia has made much of its recent proposal for a new global energy charter to replace the existing Energy Charter Treaty which was adopted in 1991 to integrate the energy sectors of the former East Bloc.

Medvedev reaffirmed his objections to the existing charter and warned Russia would not take part in it. The EU in turn suggested to look at Moscow's proposal but Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso ruled out a replacement of the existing pact.

"We should not through away agreements that already existed for years," he said. "We are open to discussing the proposals but without putting under pressure the system that already exists."

At the heart of the differences over energy supplies is Russia's objective to control as large a share as possible from the gas fields to the final European consumer. Brussels in turn is concerned about its energy dependence on Moscow and is seeking ways to ensure access to alternative sources in central Asia.

gas tranzit Another issue on the energy agenda of the talks was Ukraine. The EU urged both Moscow and Kyiv to avoid a recurrence of this January's gas stand off. When Russia closed the tap on Ukraine, the rest of Europe briefly was on the brink of a serious energy crisis in the middle of a cold winter.

"Disruption in the export and transport of gas must not be allowed to occur again," Jose Manuel Barroso said.

"We ask Russia and Ukraine to do everything in their power to prevent another crisis next year. European consumers that are not responsible for these problems are suffering the negative consequences."

But Russia expressed its doubt about Ukraine's ability to pay and suggested a syndicated loan agreement with European and Russian participation to help out Kyiv.

"We are ready to help the Ukrainian state but would like the European Union, those countries that are interested in reliable security of energy cooperation, to take upon themselves the bulk of this work."

Few had expected that the summit in Khabarovsk would bring about any major progress, but at least there was hope that two sides could use the opportunity to move closer and rebuilt trust after the disruptions last year.

Yet in the end, the smiles and reassurances failed to conceal the significant rifts that remain. And most of the issues that were left unresolved are likely to persist if not even grow as a stumbling block between Moscow and Brussels.



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