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Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
EU shocked as Putin comes out fighting
By William Horsley
BBC News Europe analyst

Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel
EU leaders were reportedly taken aback by Mr Putin's rebuff
Insiders' reports from EU leaders' dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin last Friday suggest Europe's diplomats have begun the week suffering from diplomatic indigestion.

All 25 European Union leaders met Mr Putin in Finland.

Accounts of the meeting from some of those present there speak of unusually blunt exchanges between the two sides, in which Mr Putin said he would not listen to lectures about human rights, and rejected EU demands over its vitally important oil and gas business.

Like some blazing row between world celebrities in a private club, word of the verbal fisticuffs is coming out in dribs and drabs and is still spreading.

The Europeans went in saying bravely that that they would tackle Mr Putin over human rights issues, like the recent murder of a political journalist, and calling on him to loosen the state monopolies in oil and gas development if he wanted a relationship of trust.

That stance was the stronger for being shared by Russia's closest economic partner, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

Pleasantry knocked aside

But Mr Putin's response was sharp. He told the Europeans Russia would set its own terms on energy supplies, and not sign the Energy Charter Treaty, as they asked.

Challenged about corruption and failings in the rule of law in Russia, he asked why officials had been sent to jail in Spain, and annoyed some in Italy with his quip that "mafia is not a Russian word".

Challenged over the economic embargo on Georgia, he accused that tiny state of planning to settle its disputes with Russia with bloodshed.

Some of the Europeans were shocked.

So the meeting in Lahti, Finland, had few concrete results.

But the mask of pleasantry has been knocked off.

At the next EU-Russia summit next month it may not be possible to put the really tough issues aside with jokes or jibes.


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