Page last updated at 13:03 GMT, Friday, 27 June 2008 14:03 UK

Russians and EU to seek new pact

Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief (l) and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Energy issues were at the top of the summit's agenda

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and top EU officials have announced the start of talks on a new strategic partnership agreement.

The start of negotiations has been long delayed, amid strained ties under Mr Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin. But, at a meeting with EU officials in the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk, Mr Medvedev said he was looking for a "new impulse" to relations with the EU. The talks will formally begin on 4 July in Brussels, he said.

They will primarily focus on trade - Russia is the EU's third biggest trading partner and half of all Russian exports go to the EU.

Objections lifted

A relaxed Mr Medvedev hailed the "sincere, neighbourly" mood at the summit, and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he "really enjoyed this... very open, relaxed, constructive atmosphere".

Mr Putin stayed away from the summit. But despite much talk of co-operation and mutual interest, old problems reared their heads, says the BBC's James Rodgers.

President Medvedev said Russia was alarmed by what he called a tendency to use European solidarity to promote the interests of individual members in bilateral disputes with Russia.

He also harshly criticised US plans to site missile defence facilities in Europe, and warned the EU against relying on others to ensure security in Europe.

Indeed, Russia proposed a new treaty covering security across the European continent - a suggestion it said was warmly welcomed.

Objections dropped

The new agreement is meant to replace the previous 10-year deal, which expired in 2007, but will continue to govern relations until the new text comes into force.

Talks had been stalled since late 2006, when Warsaw objected to a Russian ban on meat imports from Poland.

Western Siberian oilfield

After that Lithuania held up progress, saying it wanted discussions on Russia's support for separatists in Georgia and Moldova.

It dropped its objections in May, allowing talks to go ahead.

Energy supplies were a key issue at the summit, with the EU getting about a quarter of its natural gas from Russia.

The host city is at the heart of Russia's oil boom and more than 4,000km (2,500 miles) from Brussels.

The European Commission says it wants the new partnership agreement to establish "a level playing field for energy relations".

New cloud

Russia's previous gas rows with its former Soviet neighbours - especially Ukraine - have made Europe nervous, our correspondent says.

Among the other subjects covered by the summit were financial market stability, the rise of sovereign wealth funds, climate change and the current food crisis.

There was a potential new stumbling block raised on the eve of the summit, when Finland - a major Russian trading partner - announced it was considering retaliation for Russian moves to increase export duties on raw timber.

The country said Russia's measures - which it says are designed to bolster the country's paper-processing industry - would cost up to 16,000 jobs in Finland.

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