Russia and the European Union discussed cooperating on human rights, drug enforcement and cultural exchanges at a summit that however acheived little on key sticking points.
Lots of smiles but little substance -- Putin with Socrates
Vladimir Putin, in his final EU summit as president, sparred with the EU over energy and trade in a one-day meeting that will likely be remembered for the Russian president's comments drawing a parallel between US plans for a missile shield in eastern Europe and the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, widely regarded as the closest the world came to nuclear war.
"This was a constructive summit, a positive event. It has led to several significant steps toward building a deeper relationship between the EU and Russia," said Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, who hosted the meeting in the town of Mafra near Lisbon.
"The development of our trade is clear for all to see. That is the keynote of our relationship," he added.
The atmosphere on Friday was relaxed and jovial. Besides Socrates, Russian President Vladimir Putin, EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, were in attendance.
"We are satisfied with the results of this meeting, which was held in a friendly atmosphere and a constructive manner," Putin said.
Human rights institute
Men in black -- Putin, center, with Barosso and Socrates
Putin suggested that the EU and Russia should set up a joint institute to discuss issues of human rights across the continent.
"I am happy to put forward a joint initiative from the two houses of the Russian parliament to establish an EU-Russian center for human rights and democracy. This could bring together politicians, businessmen and civil society," Putin told journalists.
"Given Russia's growing financial and economic potential, we should be able to make some contributions to financing discussions on human rights and democracy," he added.
EU leaders welcomed the move, saying that it could "move forward" the relationship between the two sides. Previous EU-Russia meetings have often been clouded by mutual accusations of human rights abuses.
Human rights experts said Putin's support for human rights was pure political rhetoric.
"We already have two European organizations that look at human rights," said Nils Muiznieks, a former Integration Minister and expert on EU-Russia relations at the Latvian University. "Russia is trying to destroy both of them. Why do we need a third?"
Few agreements reached at summit
Another Cuban Missile Crisis?
On Friday, the EU and Russia signed agreements on raising quotas of Russian steel imports and cooperating in the fight against drugs. They also established a body to promote cultural exchanges.
Putin confirmed that Russia would invite OSCE observers to its forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.
But the key issues which experts had highlighted before the summit remained unsolved. Neither of the two most contentious issues which experts raised before the meeting -- a Polish veto on a future EU-Russia strategic agreement in retaliation for a Russian ban on Polish meat imports, and the fee that Russia charges EU airlines to fly over its territory - was directly mentioned in the press conference.
The strategic deal is blocked by an "internal EU issue" which Russia hopes will be "solved as soon as possible," Putin said in the only reference to the Polish dispute. The issue of Siberian overflights was not mentioned at all.
The EU's plans to ban any company from its energy markets which both produces and distributes energy had also drawn Russian fire before the meeting. Russian officials say that the measure is aimed at keeping Russian gas monopolist Gazprom out of Europe.
Putin likens tensions to Cuban Missile Crisis
Summit a step towards normalizing relations
While the Portuguese summit seemed to restore normalcy to the EU-Russia relationship, the same cannot be said for the ongoing tension between Russia and the United States.
The issue of plans to install a missile-defense system in EU members Poland and the Czech Republic surfaced Friday when Putin compared the situation to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.
At the same time, Putin suggested the tension was much lower than during the Cuban missile crisis because he feels the US is listening to Moscow's concerns about the missile plans.
"On a positive note, I note that concerns about threats to our security are being heard by the Americans," Putin said. "Our American partners are thinking about how to neutralize these threats that are being created. Our work continues."
European leaders did not comment on Putin's missile shield comments.