1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Soothing Tensions

DW staff / AFP (sp)May 15, 2007

German Foreign Minister Steinmeier met Russian President Putin on Tuesday in a last-ditch bid to rescue a looming EU-Russia summit amid spiraling tensions over a host of issues.

The stars aren't shining too brightly on EU-Russia relationsImage: Montage picture-alliance/DW

Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said progress had been made but there was no sign of a breakthrough on issues including a Russian ban on imports of Polish meat and a row between Moscow and Estonia that have strained Russia's relationship with the bloc.

"Preparing for the summit has been difficult," Steinmeier said after his talks with Putin. "There have been a number of specific problems which we have not been able to solve over the past few weeks. Keeping silent about them doesn't help," he said.

Vladimir Putin und Frank-Walter Steinmeier 15.05.2007
Steinmeier, left, and Putin tried to play down their differencesImage: AP

"That is why I looked for an opportunity to meet with the Russian president and the foreign minister. That was a good decision. We are now seeing the situation around the preparation for the ... summit in a much clearer way."

Speaking at the start of the meeting, Putin said: "There are differences of opinion on how to solve specific problems, but both sides have a desire to solve them."

Putin met Steinmeier straight after talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is also trying to soothe her country's tense relations with Russia.

A sense of doom

With attempts to negotiate a key EU-Russia partnership accord in tatters, there were few signs that Germany's intervention as head of the rotating presidency of the European Union could salvage the summit.

Russia's foreign ministry accused Poland of holding EU-Russia relations "hostage" by blocking discussion of the partnership deal, which would govern key areas, including energy supplies, Interfax news agency reported.

Putin's representative for EU relations, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said there "is no real sense in discussing an accord on which we cannot negotiate," Interfax reported.

Poland has vetoed negotiations in retaliation for a Russian ban on Polish meat imports, while Lithuania is now also threatening to veto the talks unless Russia resumes oil deliveries to a refinery in the north of the Baltic state.

Warsaw made an additional demand on Tuesday that the 27-member EU must pledge to protect the energy security of Poland and other EU newcomers that rely on Russian oil and gas.

Deteriorating ties with West

The disputes are fuelling escalating tensions between Moscow and new EU member countries of formerly Soviet-dominated central Europe.

Blumen werden niedergelegt am Denkmal in Tallinn Estland
Russia's ugly dispute over a memorial with Estonia have soured Moscow's ties with the EUImage: AP

Estonia is also locked in an ugly war of words with Russia over the relocation of a Soviet-era war memorial in the capital Tallinn. The Baltic republic says that a halving of rail freight from Russia this month amounts to unofficial economic sanctions.

EU-Russia tensions, coupled with increasingly frayed US-Russian ties, are contributing to a dramatic deterioration of East-West relations ahead of presidential election seasons in both Russia and the United States.

Moscow is already in a fierce confrontation with Washington over US plans to deploy an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia is also at loggerheads with the European Union and United States over Western-backed plans to give independence to Kosovo, a province in Russian ally Serbia.

A "senseless" summit

Ahead of his Moscow trip, Steinmeier sounded pessimistic about the chances of any breakthroughs.

"I cannot assure you 100 percent whether progress can be made on individual issues, but even if you do not know you must make an attempt," he told reporters in Brussels.

The German foreign policy chief even addressed rumors that the summit could be cancelled, saying "we have to bring an end to these discussions about whether or not the summit will take place."

Russia's Kommersant daily said Steinmeier would be unable "to save the summit from collapse," while the Vedomosti daily called the Samara meeting "senseless."

"The EU-Russian summit will either be a relative failure or a scandalous failure. There will definitely be no negotiations on a partnership agreement. The participants may not even be able to agree on a joint declaration," the daily said.