Breakthrough on trade expected at EU-Russia summit
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and European Union leaders are hoping to sweep aside most remaining obstacles to Moscow's entry into the WTO and further warm their ties at a Brussels summit next week.
The last major world power still outside the Geneva-based world trade body, Russia "expects to sign a protocol agreement" Tuesday with EU president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, said Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizov.
Moscow in October won US backing for accession to the WTO and "has negotiated longer than anyone," said Chizov, whose country is looking at membership next year. "Seventeen years is far too long," he added.
But a European diplomat said unresolved problems remained, including Russian tariff hikes on European meat imports, before a deal could be struck on the WTO.
Overflight charges levied against European planes for the right to pass over Siberia are another sticking-point. Analysts estimate the annual royalties at up to 400 million dollars.
Moscow has pledged to drop the levies as soon as it joins the WTO but the EU says the issue is not linked and that Russia pledged to end the Soviet-era system earlier.
"Russia's entry to the WTO would be very positive but other issues are showing little progress," said Katinka Barysch of London-based think-tank, the Centre for European Reform.
Last month's proposal by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of a Lisbon-to-Vladivostok free-trade zone won a less than enthusiastic response from Berlin, while an agreement to ease visas for Russians seems a long way off.
Held during the Cancun climate talks and a resumption of the long-stalled Iran nuclear talks in Geneva, the two sides are likely to address these questions.
Moscow however is more inclined to put the onus on its bilateral dealings with the 27 EU states rather than on signing accords with the bloc as a whole.
"The EU is not a super-state, it's not a federation, it's still 27 countries," Chizov said.
Putin for instance entertains a warm relationship with Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi, who is considered by Washington, according to WikiLeaks' latest revelations, as the leading spokesman and defender of Russian interests inside the EU.
However Paris and Berlin too are keen to court Moscow.
Medvedev last month met French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the French seaside resort of Deauville and Putin was hosted by Merkel late last month in Berlin.
But Moscow's ties with other EU nations, in particular the former Soviet-era satellite countries that tend to regard Russia with suspicious eyes, are often more conflictual.
The exception is Poland, where relations are on the mend. And Medvedev will fly in to Brussels following a historic visit there in which the two countries are to sign a series of deals and turn the page on a bitter history.
© 2010 AFP