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Last Updated: Friday, 18 May 2007, 07:35 GMT 08:35 UK
Sticky issues for EU-Russia summit
By Stephen Mulvey
EU reporter, BBC News

Russia and the European Union have a long list of grievances to discuss at their summit in the Volga city of Samara.

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin
German diplomats concede that the summit comes at a "difficult" time
In a break with previous practice, no joint declaration will be issued, because there would not be enough to say.

Nor will the two sides be able to begin delayed talks on a new strategic partnership agreement, because of a veto imposed by Poland, now supported by Lithuania.

Here are some of the tense issues liable to come up in talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

KOSOVO

The European Union is alarmed by Russian threats to veto a UN resolution - sponsored by the EU and the US - proposing independence, under international supervision, for the Serbian breakaway region of Kosovo. Moscow is concerned about the safety of Kosovo's Serb minority, and has said it will not support any deal on Kosovo's status that the Serbian government is against. It wants more talks between Serbian and Kosovan leaders, and more discussions in the UN Security Council. Officials in Brussels have said that a Russian veto - which Russia's ambassador to the UN said on Saturday was getting more and more likely - would mark a watershed in the EU-Russian relations.

TRADE

The EU was among the first to support Russia's bid for WTO membership, but now, as Russia enters the home straight, it is threatening to withhold final approval. Officials say Russia has not fulfilled longstanding promises to lift discriminatory import duties on some products, to end high tariffs for international rail transport, and to enforce intellectual property rights. It has also refused to allow meat to cross the border from Poland since 2005 - officially on food safety grounds, but the EU suspects the move is politically inspired. Last year, Russia threatened to extend the ban to all animal products from the EU. This all adds up to some "major impediments" to Russia's WTO accession, the EU says.

ENERGY

The EU expects to reach agreement with Russia on a system to provide early warning of possible disruptions to energy supply. But it has a number of problems with Russia in this area. For one thing, it wants better access, and clearer rules, for European companies keen to exploit Russian oil and gas reserves. It is also unhappy about a perceived Russian tendency to use energy as a foreign-policy tool to punish some of its neighbours. The EU will stress the importance of resuming oil supplies to Lithuania, which Russia suddenly halted last July when a Lithuanian refinery was sold to a Polish company, rather than a Russian rival. A recent deal between Russia and Turkmenistan to build a new gas pipeline will also be discussed, as it threatens to undermine an EU-backed plan for a Trans-Caspian pipeline, which would help weaken Russia's stranglehold on European gas supplies.

ESTONIA

The EU has tried not to get too deeply involved in the row between Estonia and Russia, over Estonia's relocation of a Soviet World War II monument. But after a blockade of the Estonian embassy in Moscow, and violent scenes at a news conference given by the Estonian ambassador, the European Commission urged Russia to observe UN conventions on protection of diplomats. This message could be reiterated after a threat by a pro-Kremlin youth group to picket the European Commission offices in Moscow. There is also concern in Europe that Russia is deliberately obstructing trade with Estonia by barring lorries from the main bridge linking the two countries. Russia says the step was taken because the bridge needs urgent repairs. Estonia says Russia is applying sanctions by stealth.

HUMAN RIGHTS

An internal EU paper prepared in advance of the summit says the human rights situation in Russia is deteriorating, and a cause for increasing concern. It refers to constraints on civil society and media, and enforced disappearances and torture in Chechnya. Mr Putin hates European lecturing on human rights, and can be guaranteed to demand action from the EU against what he regards as Estonia's violation of the rights of its ethnic Russian community. The EU is also expected to underline the importance for the future of EU-Russian relations of free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia next year. It wants Russia to invite monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. But Mr Putin regards the OSCE monitoring operation as a foreign-policy tool of the West, and will be reluctant to agree.

MISSILE DEFENCE

Russia has threatened to tear up a key arms limitation pact, and to target missiles at Poland and the Czech Republic if they go ahead with plans to host elements of a planned US missile defence system. This is not really an issue for the EU, but it contributes to the sour atmosphere of the summit. In fact the issue divides Europe. Former French President Jacques Chirac said earlier this year that Europe and the US should listen to Russia's concerns. Ms Merkel has also suggested that the US should consult Russia more actively, within the Nato-Russia framework. Her coalition partner, the German Social Democratic Party, is dead against European involvement in the US shield.






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