Russia to EU: Stay out of Syria, back off on Gazprom
Vladimir Putin has made clear that he will not budge an inch on Syria ahead of an EU-Russia summit.
Speaking in separate press events in Berlin and Paris on Friday (1 June), the Russian leader ruled out lifting his UN Security Council veto on economic sanctions or military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
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He also blamed civilian deaths on opposition forces and denied that Russia is selling arms to Damascus.
"Russia does not provide weapons that could be used in a civil conflict," he said in the German capital.
"How many peaceful civilians were killed by the opposite side? Did you count? The count goes into the hundreds there too. Our goal is to make peace between the sides of the conflict," he noted later in the French capital when asked about the recent massacre in Houla, western Syria.
He also criticised Western adventurism in general, noting that Nato is pressing ahead with plans for missile interceptors in Europe in what Russia sees as a threat to its nuclear deterrent.
"They promised us they would not expand Nato, then they promised not to deploy bases, but Nato is expanding and moving east and bases are springing up like mushrooms," he said.
Top EU officials Herman Van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso and Catherine Ashton began one of their regular, twice-yearly Russia summits with a dinner on Sunday in a tsarist palace on the outskirts of St Petersburg.
The EU's energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger and Russia's energy minister Alexander Novak are also taking part.
"I am now at the EU-Russia Summit and Syria is one of the key issues we will discuss," Ashton said in a statement published the same day.
In terms of EU-level business, Putin is expected: to urge the EU to back down on a law which could force Russian energy champion Gazprom to sell assets in Europe; to seek EU endorsement for Russia's South Stream gas pipeline project; to rethink another EU law on forcing foreign airlines to pay CO2 emissions taxes; and to speed up work on EU-Russia visa-free travel.
For its part, the EU is keen to find out if Putin still backs the Partnership for Modernisation, what he plans to do about a new EU-Russia strategic treaty and about the "Eurasian Union."
Barroso launched the modernisation scheme - a plan for swapping high-end EU technology in return for political reform in Russia - with Putin's predecessor Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.
But there were no reforms in the Medvedev years despite the deal.
An EU official told EUobserver ahead of the summit that Moscow does not really listen to Brussels on democracy and the rule of law. "It's above our paygrade," the contact said.
The new EU-Russia treaty is to replace an extant bilateral agreement which dates back to 1995, but talks have been making little progress.
Meanwhile, Putin's Eurasian Union is designed to draw Belarus, Ukraine and Central Asian countries into an EU-type construction in competition with the Union's plans to protect Belarusian independence and to draw Ukraine closer to the West.
A Russian diplomat told this website the Eurasian Union is the main "ideological vision" of Putin's current presidency after he spent his first two terms in office establishing a new post-Soviet order in the country.
He added on the pace of post-Soviet integration: "There is a Russian saying: It takes a long time to saddle a horse, but then it gallops away."
Putin is to travel to Uzbekistan shortly after wrapping up the EU talks at lunchtime on Monday.