EU leaders split over how to deal with Russia at summit

20th October 2006, Comments 0 comments

20 October 2006, Lahti, Finland (dpa) - In a tough balancing act, European Union leaders Friday were set to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin for secure access to Moscow's massive energy resources while spotlighting concerns over democracy and human rights deficits. The EU dilemma over how to deal with its giant and increasingly assertive neighbour is dominating the one-day summit in Finland's southern city of Lahti, with the bloc's 25 leaders split over the issue. Finland, which currently holds the EU

20 October 2006

Lahti, Finland (dpa) - In a tough balancing act, European Union leaders Friday were set to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin for secure access to Moscow's massive energy resources while spotlighting concerns over democracy and human rights deficits.

The EU dilemma over how to deal with its giant and increasingly assertive neighbour is dominating the one-day summit in Finland's southern city of Lahti, with the bloc's 25 leaders split over the issue. Finland, which currently holds the EU presidency, has invited Putin as a guest of honour at a dinner for leaders.

"Our main message will be that we want deep cooperation with Russia," said Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen who is hosting the EU meeting in an ultra-modern glass and timber lakeside congress centre.

Fending off criticism that the EU was being too soft with Putin on human rights, Vanhanen vowed the bloc's concerns would be conveyed to the Russian leader in a "frank and open way."

But the Finnish premier faces a daunting task.

The EU is split between countries like France and Germany which are seeking a more conciliatory tone with Russia and EU newcomers such as Poland and the Baltic states - all former parts of the Soviet-dominated east bloc - demanding a far harsher line.

EU leaders entering the talks set out different priorities for dealing with Russia.

Swedish Premier Fredrik Reinfeldt underlined the need for the EU to forge a relationship with Moscow "based on common values."

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said the focus must be on seeking "predictability in Russia." Moscow's recent bullying of Georgia over the arrest and expulsion of alleged Russian spies, meant "we cannot talk about predictability," he said.

Ansip said the bloc would have to work on finding a "good balance between its values and interests" when dealing with Moscow.

Warning the EU not to sell its soul for oil, European Parliament President Josep Borrell said the bloc would "lose credibility if it traded human rights for energy."

Russia supplies 25 per cent of the EU's oil and gas needs and this figure is set to soar in the coming decade with the opening of a new Baltic Sea gas pipeline.

Alarm bells were triggered over Russian reliability as an energy supplier after Moscow cut off gas supplies earlier this year to Ukraine, causing brief energy shortages across Europe.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, asked if he viewed Russia as a reliable partner, shrugged and replied: "We will find out."

In addition to doubts over Russia as an energy supplier, Moscow also seems intent on driving out foreign energy giants from the country.

There have been clashes with Royal Dutch Shell over the oil company's alleged contractual environmental breaches in the far-east Sakhalin project.

The decision of Gazprom, Russia's state gas monopoly, to reject foreign partners in the giant Shtokman natural-gas project in the Barents Sea is also seen as a prime example of Moscow exerting total state control over its energy sector.

"What we will naturally make clear is that we give Russia security in contracts and we expect the same from Russia," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Echoing similar concerns, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU wanted to ensure the "openness, transparency and reciprocity" of Russia's energy markets.

In tandem with concern at Russia's use of energy as a political tool, the EU is also increasingly armed over Russia's human rights record.

Moscow's recent bullying of Georgia over its arrest and expulsion of several Russian officers accused of being spies and the recent slaying of renowned Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya are two key issues expected to be raised with Putin.

In comments released before the meeting, human rights watchdog Amnesty International insisted EU leaders must confront Putin on human rights violations, including the "onslaught" on freedom of expression and association in Russia.

"Energy issues are important but Europe will be doing no-one a favour ... if this is allowed to override all other questions," said Amnesty's Dick Oosting.

Putin's meeting with EU leaders comes amid intense media coverage over admiring remarks he made concerning Israel's President Moshe Katsav who faces sexual harassment charges.

"He turned out to be a strong man, raped ten women! I never would have expected it of him. He has surprised us all, we all envy him!" the Kommersant newspaper quoted Putin as saying at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Moscow on Wednesday.

Katsav faces possible charges that he sexually harassed several former females employees. Israeli police have recommended he be indicted for rape, molestation and wiretapping.

DPA

Subject: German news

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