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EU-Russia Summit Crisis

DW staff (kh)
May 14, 2007

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, is to make an unscheduled visit to Russia to defuse growing tensions ahead of this week's EU-Russia summit.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, left, and SteinmeierImage: AP

On Tuesday, Steinmeier will hold crisis talks with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over a growing list of disputes ranging from a Russian ban on Polish meat to Russia's threat to veto wide-ranging autonomy for Kosovo.

"The situation is complicated," conceded Steinmeier, as he arrived to chair talks in Brussels with his EU counterparts. "In this situation we need to present proposals and not (trade) accusations," he said.

Steinmeier took pains to quash rumors that the summit would be cancelled.

"It will take place," he told reporters. "We have to bring an end to these discussions about whether or not the summit will take place," he added.

"The EU needs Russia to resolve international conflicts, but similarly Russia continues to depend on Europe, so I am absolutely sure that on both sides reason will prevail," he said.

Merkel admits to problems

Earlier in the day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the EU's interests in maintaining strong ties with Russia.

Estland Tallinn Neuer Platz für sowjetisches Kriegerdenkmal
Estonia removed this Soviet memorial from central Tallinn last monthImage: AP

Addressing European parliamentarians in Berlin, Merkel acknowledged that there were a "series of problems to overcome" but said she hoped the summit would "make clear that we are interested in a close strategic partnership with Russia."

EU-Russia relations have been tense for more than a year, especially since many felt Russia had begun using its heft as a major energy supplier to promote its foreign policy goals.

Also casting a pall over the summit is the recent dispute between Russia and EU member Estonia over the removal of a Soviet memorial in Tallinn dedicated to Red Army soldiers who died in World War Two.

Steinmeier said the German presidency had been "successful with our involvement" in calming tensions between Russia and Estonia, and that it "will of course continue to work to bring progress."

Meat row

But Steinmeier was unsure whether the dispute over Moscow's ban of Polish meat and farm produce would be resolved before the summit began on Friday near the Russian city of Samara, on the banks of the Volga. Russia says the ban is a food-safety issue, while Poland accuses Moscow of using it as a political tool.

"We will try right up to the summit to resolve the conflict concerning Polish meat," Steinmeier said, but added: "I couldn't say whether we will be successful."

Because of the ban, Poland has veto talks on a new EU-Russia partnership agreement meant to replace an existing accord which expires late this year.

Hoffen auf Rußland
Kosovo Serbs might want Russia's help to oppose Kosovo's independenceImage: AP

But Russia's stance on Kosovo -- a potential political powder keg in Europe -- is potentially more difficult to overcome.

On Saturday, the Russian government threatened to use its UN Security Council veto to stop "supervised independence" being granted to the majority ethnic Albanian province in Serbia, so as not to set an example to separatists elsewhere.

"The most important issue the EU has to solve with Russia is Kosovo," Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

The EU has planned an important mission in Kosovo to help supervise the transfer of powers from the United Nations to the provincial authorities, once a decision on its status is finalized.

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