Monday

22nd Apr 2019

EU and Russia tackle thorny issues at Samara summit

EU leaders and Russia's Vladimir Putin discussed worsening bilateral relations at an informal dinner in the Volzhsky Utyos health spa near Samara on Thursday (17 May) evening, with energy, human rights and Kosovo on the official agenda for Friday.

"It's always good to speak to each other rather than talking about each other," German chancellor Angela Merkel said arriving at the venue, AFP reports. "I came here with this spirit of defending European interests in that sense of solidarity," European Commission boss Jose Manuel Barroso said.

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  • The Samara meeting has seen one of the most tense build-ups to an EU-Russia summit for years (Photo: kremlin.ru)

Putin aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky tried to lighten the mood, saying "This conversation - in a relaxed atmosphere, with no protocol or time pressure - will allow both sides to exchange views on problems that they want to raise." The diplomat had earlier called reports of an EU-Russia crisis "exaggerated."

But EU member Estonia is still complaining of Russian cyber attacks on its government, media and banking websites, with NATO sending in experts to help out Tallinn. Lithuania is facing a Russian oil blockade and Latvia is saying it opposes Russia's Baltic Sea pipeline plan on environmental grounds.

Meanwhile, Poland continues to block talks on a new bilateral treaty due to a Russian ban on Polish food. The embargo was described as a type of "war" by Polish foreign minister Ana Fotyga on Thursday and the EU has hinted it may delay Russia's WTO accession due to Moscow's trade actions.

On energy, EU leaders plan to ask Putin to help set up a "consultation mechanism" to prevent supply shocks. They will seek assurances no new legislation or "flanking policies" - like sudden environmental or tax problems - will be used to squeeze EU energy investors in Russia.

Ms Merkel and Mr Barroso have also promised to voice EU concern about worsening repression ahead of Russian elections next year. Newswires say several opposition leaders were arrested Thursday en route to Samara, where up to 1,000 people are expected to gather on Friday in a protest already ruled illegal.

On foreign policy - to be discussed over the final lunch - Brussels will make a last ditch attempt to bring Moscow on board with a US and EU draft UN resolution to give independence to Kosovo. Mr Putin on Tuesday brushed off similar calls from the US' Condoleezza Rice on her visit to Moscow.

The EU will voice disappointment over Russia's role in Europe's "frozen conflicts." Brussels is annoyed about Russia's secret deal-making with Moldova outside EU-participation multilateral structures. It also shares Georgia's concern about Russian support for rebels in the South Caucasus.

The traditional press conference, shortly after noon, is unlikely to be able to deliver even a basic agreement on Siberian overflight fees for EU airlines, after Russia pulled back from the deal earlier this week. But EU officials hope that warm words and smiles could improve the climate for future talks.

"Russia continues to fall short of its respect for democratic values, human rights and rule of law...as well as market economy principles," an internal EU paper on the summit's "main deliverables" says. "It has become increasingly assertive on the international scene, making use of its leverage as a major energy supplier."

"The Kremlin is reversing all the achievements of the glasnost era," Human Rights Watch director Holly Cartner said in a statement, after the NGO's people were prevented from coming to the summit venue. Amnesty International head Dick Oosting said "the EU must stand up to Russia to stop things getting from bad to worse."

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