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Russia, Germany calm tensions ahead of Russia-EU summit

Russia’s president and Germany’s foreign minister praised efforts from the EU and Russia to resolve differences, and vowed not to inflate tensions ahead of a difficult Russia-EU summit.

Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: „I think, thank God, that there are no conflicts [between Russia and the EU]. We may have different opinions on how to deal with this or that issue but in any case, both sides are willing to resolve these issues. This is already something.” The meeting at the presidential residence near Moscow took place minutes after talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Steinmeier said one of the objectives of his visit was to try to mend fences in the run-up to the next Russia-EU summit, scheduled for May 17-18 in the Russian Volga city of Samara, where the EU delegation may lack authority to discuss a much-needed wide-ranging agreement between Russia and the united Europe, due to EU-member Poland’s veto on the talks. The controversy began when Warsaw scuppered talks last November over Russia’s ban on imported Poland’s „unsanitary” meat, branded by Poland as politically motivated.

The German diplomat, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said: „On both sides of the table, we are interested in overcoming our differences, sometimes even collisions, and in preventing them from being inflated into major political conflicts.” After the meeting, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow is ready to discuss the Polish meat issue „professionally and without bias.” Speaking separately in Brussels, Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov ruled out the possibility of Moscow failing to sign a new cooperation agreement.

Even if next week’s summit fails to produce an agreement, „there will be no legal vacuum, because the existing one will be automatically prolonged,” the Russian ambassador said. In Moscow, Steinmeier said he agreed with Putin, who had said that he pinned great hopes on European integration and acknowledged that old-style thinkers on both sides lack understanding and trust. „Both these thoughts are right,” Steinmeier said. „Wherever we lack trust, we should not take a wait-and-see attitude and remain silent - even if there is a collision of interests,” Steinmeier said.

Talks on a new deal to replace the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) expiring in December may have to be delayed again, as Poland and most recently Lithuania threatened to block the talks. Lithuania insists that Russia resume oil supplies through the Druzhba pipeline, suspended last July after a purported accident. Russian authorities have said repairs are still continuing, but the ex-Soviet Baltic state insists the suspension is politically motivated.

Media reports also said that Poland and Lithuania, seeking to reduce their energy dependence on Russia, were also angered by President Putin’s Caspian gas deal with the Kazakh and Turkmen leaders last week, which delivered a blow to a rival project to build pipelines from Central Asia bypassing Russia, proposed by Europe and the US and supported by an informal presidential meeting of Russia’s independent-minded neighbors to which Kazakhstan sent a deputy energy minister. (