Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Tuesday a pact forged with the European Union to boost cooperation with the expanding bloc. He said the agreement will create a "greater Europe" despite recent strains with the EU.
Putin's relations with EU leaders haven't always been chummy
The Russian leader was speaking at a Russia-EU summit to approve four "road map" accords to bolster cooperation in areas ranging from trade and investment to the fight against terrorism.
"The strategic partnership with the EU is an important priority for Russia. I am convinced that adoption of these road maps which is expected today will allow us to build a greater Europe," he said.
Shortly before the start of the talks Russia and an EU official confirmed "road map" accords had been reached on four policy areas: the economy; freedom, security and justice; external security; and research, education and culture.
Negotiations had been snagged notably on demands by the 25-nation EU for a firm linkage between an accord to ease visa rules and an agreement on the re-admission of illegal immigrants. But officials said this was virtually resolved and would be adopted by the EU leaders during the three-hour summit.
"The work between experts and officials of Russia and the EU was not easy, but it is going ahead and I hope we will continue to cooperate constructively in the future," he added.
EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker
The EU was represented by foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker -- whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, and EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso.
Barroso paid tribute to Russia as a "European" country on the eve of the talks. "Russia is a bridge from Europe to Asia, and we can be happy that we share the same values," he said on the eve of the talks.
The Moscow summit was aimed at repairing ties battered in recent years: an attempt to agree on the four "road map" accords foundered last year when Russia was angered by perceived EU interference in Ukraine.
Threats to a harmonious summit this time have focussed on strains between Russia and the EU's three ex-Soviet Baltic newcomer states, one of which had hoped until recently to a sign a border accord with Moscow at the summit. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were occupied by Stalin's Soviet Union following a Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939 and were forcibly assimilated into the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.
EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner conceded ahead of the talks that the Latvia-Russian border issue remains "delicate" and is not yet resolved. "We understand that there are always difficulties of the past. We all have to work to get rid of these difficult memories. But at the same time this is really about looking to the future," she said.
Another cause of concern for the EU are so-called "frozen conflicts" in Russia's ex-Soviet backyard near the expanded bloc's borders. One EU official said the EU was "extremely disappointed" that Moscow had failed to implement an accord signed in 1999 to withdraw Russian forces notably in Georgia and Moldova.
Ferrero-Waldner added that she hoped the summit -- a day after world leaders gathered for ceremonies to commemorate the end of World War II -- would focus on the future, not the troubled past.
"It is an important moment to look to the future together with Russia," she told reporters on the eve of the EU-Russia talks.
The EU-Russia summit came a day after over 50 heads of state and government gathered in Moscow for ceremonies to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.