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Europe

EU Assesses Ties With Russia

The European Commission has called for frank discussions between the EU and Russia on "all issues of concern," including human rights and Chechnya. Russia for its part has presented a wish list for Brussels.

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EU Commission President Prodi cordially embraces Vladimir Putin

The Commission, the European Union's executive body, noted in a statement on Monday that "in many areas, including ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas reduction, the extension of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement PCA to the ten states set to join the EU in May of this year, European Union and Russian positions appear to have diverged," despite their "interdependence."

The European Commission statement came as a response to a request from European leaders in December to draw up an assessment report on all aspects of the Union's relations with Russia and to propose measures aimed at strengthening the strategic partnership. The statement stressed that once agreement is reached on the extension of the PCA to the new member states, the EU should be ready to demonstrate its "strong commitment to fostering good relations with Russia" with the aim of agreeing to the broad outline of an Action Plan with Russia at a summit in May.

Russia submits demands to EU

For its part, Russia is refusing to transfer the PCA that has applied so far to new members, fearing disadvantages in trade with its neighboring states. It recently submitted a 14-point list containing demands for increased import quotas for grain and steel to the EU. In addition, Moscow said Brussels should provide financial aid to the building up of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, which starting on May 1st will be completely surrounded by EU territory. Ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia -- two of the accession countries -- should be given more rights, and Russian citizens should be able to travel to EU countries without a visa, the Kremlin requested.

Officials in Brussels rejected Moscow's demands, saying the extension of the validity area of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that Russia signed with the EU in 1997 was merely a legal formality and not open to negotiation. Eastern European states set to join the EU were less diplomatic, accusing Russia of blackmail.

The European Union is by far and away Russia’s most important economic and trading partner. Russia has grown to become a key strategic supplier of energy -- both natural gas and oil -- for the bloc, accounting for over 50% of current exports. Total trade between Russia and the EU reached 78 billion euros (99 billion dollars) in 2003, with the European Union suffering a heavy deficit, largely due to energy imports.

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