The global financial crisis will top the agenda at a key EU-Russia summit on Friday, overshadowing rifts between Moscow and Brussels following the August war in Georgia.
The European and Russian economies have been hard hit by the global financial crisis
Disagreements between the EU and Russia, particularly those connected to the August war in Georgia, will take a back seat to discussion of the current financial crisis, diplomats have said ahead of the EU-Russia summit in Nice on Friday, Nov. 14.
"The number one key element will be the global financial and economic situation," Russia's EU ambassador Vladimir Chizhov told a news briefing in Brussels on Wednesday. "A certain coordination of approach will be the best outcome of Nice."
The meeting, to be hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, and attended by his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, comes two months after EU leaders condemned Russia's recognition of two breakaway Georgian regions as "unacceptable" and demanded in vain for it to be reversed.
At the time, the leaders said that EU-Russia relations had "reached a crossroads." As late as Nov. 5, the European Commission wrote that the conflict had "cast a serious shadow" over EU-Russian relations.
Feelers out ahead of G20 meeting
Leaders will discuss proposals to reform the global finance system this weekend
But the summit also comes just one day before the leaders of the world's 20 greatest powers -- including the French and Russian presidents -- meet in Washington to discuss the reform of the world's financial system.
Given that Sarkozy was the first to call for such a summit, and has since conducted frantic diplomacy to get EU backing for his plans for global reform, diplomats say the Georgian conflict is simply not the focus of Friday's talks.
The summit's keynote result is expected to be the announcement of a timetable for talks on the so-called "New EU-Russia Agreement" -- talks the EU froze in protest at Russia's occupation of Georgia, but which it decided on Monday to restart.
Medvedev is also widely tipped to spend time outlining his own proposals for a "new Euro-Atlantic security architecture," an as-yet vague concept which he first mentioned in June.
Speculation is also growing in Brussels that Sarkozy will push for Russian endorsement of a set of four key principles of financial reform which EU leaders approved at a summit on Friday in Brussels.
Abundance of topics, shortage of time
Effects of the Georgia war are unlikely to take up much time at the EU-Russia summit
With such a packed agenda, diplomats point out that both Sarkozy and Medvedev will have just over three hours in Nice before they board their respective flights to Washington -- raising the question of how effectively they will be able to cover all the issues.
There is a "real risk" that the Georgian conflict will be pushed to the bottom of the agenda, the EU official said. Indeed, diplomats in Brussels say that both presidents have an interest in avoiding a row over Georgia.
Sarkozy personally brokered the deal between Russia and Georgia, making him reluctant to make any statements which would imply that his diplomacy had not worked. Medvedev has been at pains to play down Europe's anger at the war, making it unlikely that he would stress the issue himself.
That being the case, observers predict that, while the Georgia question will have to be raised, it will be done discreetly.
"They really want to announce that talks on the new deal will continue. They won't turn the spotlight on Georgia," a diplomat from one new EU member state said.