23rd Oct 2016

Germany fails to save EU-Russia summit agenda

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's trip to Moscow failed to produce any result on EU-Russia trade disputes but saw some friendly words, foreshadowing what is set to be an equally substance-free summit in Samara, Russia on Friday (18 May).

The German minister spent one hour talking with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, foreign minister Lavrov and farm minister Gordeyev as well as one hour alone with Mr Putin, but the talks ended with Moscow upholding its ban on Polish food imports.

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Mr Gordeyev said Mr Putin "once again stressed the need for safety assurances on products exported to Russia," while a Kremlin spokesman, Sergei Ryabkov, said "everything depends on how quickly and effectively the EU works on our concerns," newswires report.

Russia's 18-month old import ban has been called groundless by the European Commission and has seen Poland veto starting talks on a new EU-Russia treaty in a position backed this week by Lithuania and Estonia, which have political gripes of their own with Moscow.

Russian diplomats on Tuesday (15 May) also called into question a recent EU deal on ending $300 million a year worth of Siberian overflight fees for European airlines. The deal was due to be one of the few things the pair could claim success on at the unlucky summit.

"You could see that as a compromise which not everybody necessarily agrees to," Russia's EU envoy Vladimir Chizhov told Reuters earlier this week. "We regret that the agreement can't be signed at the summit, it would have been a good opportunity," an EU official added.

The Steinmeier-Putin meeting did produce some warm words, however. "I think, thank God, that there are no conflicts," Putin said, Ria Novosti reports. "We may have different opinions on how to deal with this or that issue but in any case, both sides are willing to resolve these issues."

"Today, we are seeing the situation much clearer," Mr Steinmeier said. "Wherever we lack trust, we should not take a wait-and-see attitude and remain silent - even if there is a collision of interests."

The mood was made slightly darker by Russian complaints about EU handling of the Russia-Estonia dispute over Tallinn's removal of a Soviet-era statue. Senior Putin aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky accused the EU of "hypocrisy" in supporting Tallinn.

"We understand that solidarity is the basis on which EU politics rests. But there are situations where solidarity harms politics and values, on which those politics are based. This is what happened in the case of Estonia," Polish media quote him as saying.

The Samara meeting will also try and tackle big international issues such as Kosovo and Iran, but Russian and EU officials warned not to expect much from the summit in terms of results on specific EU-Russia issues.

Another Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the Moscow Times that "the summit is unlikely to bring about any breakthroughs. But it is valuable as it is." An EU official told the paper "there will be less and less substance" at the Samara gathering.

The Russian press was less circumspect, with the Vedomosti daily writing "The EU-Russian summit will either be a relative failure or a scandalous failure...The participants may not even be able to agree on a joint declaration."

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