Russia President Dmitry Medvedev met European Union leaders at a summit on Friday, with Brussels hoping the new Kremlin chief would prove an easier partner than predecessor Vladimir Putin.
The talks with Medvedev in the Siberian oil town of Khanty-Mansiysk offers EU chiefs their first opportunity to assess Medvedev, who took office last month. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said first impressions from a dinner with the Russian president on Thursday evening were positive. “We are now in a phase of retuning our relationship because there are new personalities,” she told reporters before the formal summit meeting. “...We do see this, I think sincere, wish to work together in a much closer way.” “We will have to see if this wish is translated into action,” she added.
The centrepiece of the three-hour meeting is expected to be the formal launch of negotiations on a new framework agreement covering the at times testy relations between the EU and Russia. Although Russia is the EU’s third biggest trading partner, the bloc has often differed with Moscow over human rights, democracy and independence for the former Serbia province of Kosovo -- all issues avoided at Thursday evening’s dinner but which are expected to surface at Friday’s formal session.
Medvedev hosted the dinner in a restaurant located in a crystal pyramid on top of a hill dominating this flourishing town of 70,000 people on a river in the Siberian taiga forest. The Russian leader took the opportunity to lay out to EU leaders his ideas about developing a new post-Cold War security pact for Europe to eventually replace NATO, an idea he first floated in Berlin earlier this month. “The guests showed a considerable interest to the idea of working out a new collective security pact for Europe,” a source in the Russian delegation said. “They touched upon European integration and looked into major international issues,” he added. “They discussed the world economy, international food markets and finance.”
The last EU summit on Russian soil, hosted about a year ago by then-president Putin, was a tense affair. German Chancellor Angela Merkel chided Russian police for interfering in an opposition protest rally and Putin clashed with her at a final news conference. This time, the mood will be more courteous though without any major breakthroughs, say diplomats. Putin, who is now prime minister, will not be attending.
The start of talks on the new partnership pact was held up for 18 months after objections from new EU members Poland and Lithuania, who wanted to settle bilateral arguments with their former Soviet master first. A fresh eve-of-summit trade row between Russia and EU member Finland over timber duties threatened to spoil the atmosphere. Helsinki said it was considering taxing Russian goods transiting the country after Moscow raised duties on the export of Russian timber but Brussels officials played down the issue. “This idea was only floated yesterday,” said EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. “It is far too early for any of us to take any view on it.” Mandelson said he could understand why Finland was considering helping its timber processing industry but added that such a move would be considered as state aid and need approval from Brussels. Helsinki says that higher Russian tariffs on raw timber exports hurt paper producers in Scandinavia. Russia says the move is needed to help its domestic timber processing industry. (Reuters)