Putin set for standoff with EU leaders |
Updated: 2012-12-22 07:30 By Reuters in Brussels and Moscow ( China Daily)
Russian President Vladimir Putin with European Council President HermanVan Rompuy (center) and European Commission President Jose ManuelBarroso (right) ahead of a European Union-Russia summit in Brussels onFriday. Francois Lenoir / Reuters
Relations sour over Syria, energy and trade amid US adoptions rowRussian President Vladimir Putin and European Union leaders were likely to clash over issues ranging from Syria to trade, energy and human rights on Friday when Putin held his first talks in Brussels since his re-election as president in May.Relations between the 27-nation bloc and Russia, its main external supplier of energy and a key trading partner, have been soured by rows over gas pipelines and brewing trade disputes over cars and pigs.Russian and EU officials expected no breakthroughs in Putin's talks with European CommissionPresident Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. Some commentators were surprised Putin bothered to make the trip."The last few EU-Russia summits have achieved very little and for Putin I think it is really a box-ticking exercise and I am almost surprised he is going at all," said James Nixey, an expert on Russia at London's Chatham House think tank.No meeting of minds was likely over Syria, where Russia has been sharply at odds with Western powers over a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
France and other Western states have criticized Russia for vetoing three UN Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad.
Energy, long a source of conflict between Brussels and Moscow, was set to dominate the Brussels talks.Europe relies on Russia to cover around a quarter of its natural gas needs, but over the past decade Moscow has had a series of disputes with its ex-Soviet neighbors - Ukraine and Belarus - that disrupted its gas exports to Europe.Those disputes increased the EU's determination to diversify supply away from Russia.Ukraine's president pulled out of gas supply talks with Putin at the last minute on Tuesday, raising new concerns about the reliability of supplies to Europe.The EU's executive Commission added to tensions between Europe and Moscow in September when it opened an investigation into suspected anti-competitive market practices by Russia's Gazprom.
Another energy dispute expected to crop up at the summit was over Gazprom's Nord Stream gas pipeline.
Nord Stream carries gas from Russia to Germany, avoiding the Eastern European transit states such as Ukraine, which Moscow has had pricing disputes with in the past.
Gazprom owns 51 percent of Nord Stream, putting it at odds with EU law preventing suppliers of energy from dominating distribution networks within the EU.Russia maintains that the EU legal provision, which could force it to sell off part of its stake, is a restriction on trade that is contrary to World Trade Organization rules.The issue "is certainly one of the obstacles that has to be addressed by Russian and EU energycompanies", Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the EU, said this week.
Trade disputes were also high on the agenda at the talks, which also involved Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Economy Minister Andrei Belousov.EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said this month that time is running out for Russia to settle trade disputes with the EU on everything from pigs to cars, and he threatened to take Moscow to the WTO.The EU claims Russia, which joined the WTO this year after a 19-year wait, unfairly levies fees on imported vehicles, unreasonably bans EU exports of live animals and makes it costly for the bloc to export hundreds of products, especially wood. Russia's lower house of parliament on Friday approved a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, retaliating against US moves to punish Russian officials linked to the death of an anti-corruptionlawyer.The bill approved by the State Duma will also outlaw US-funded lobby and campaign groups involved in political activity. Mirroring US legislation known as the Magnitsky Act, named after lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in a Russian jail in 2009, the law imposes a visa ban and asset freeze on US citizens accused of violating the rights of Russians abroad.
Putin hinted at a news conference on Thursday that he would sign it into law once the Senate votes on it next week.The spat is overshadowing efforts to improve relations with US President Barack Obama's administration.
In Russia, the move has outraged some who say orphans are being made victims of politics.
(China Daily 12/22/2012 page8)