Medvedev holds last summit with EU
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev holds his last summit with EU leaders later Wednesday, amid divergences over energy, Syria and Iran, and set against European demands for clean elections.
As the eurozone canvasses financial support for its fight against debt, officials said Medvedev will join EU leaders for a private dinner outside Brussels from 8:00 pm (1900 GMT).
The summit proper starting from around 0800 GMT Thursday will gather EU president Herman Van Rompuy, executive head Jose Manuel Barroso, foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger.
Medvedev was to be joined by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plus economic development and trade minister Elvira Nabiullina.
The Russian president is not expected to speak publicly until a press conference planned for 1245 GMT Thursday and a subsequent round-table from 1400 GMT with business leaders from giant industrial corporations such as Siemens or Deutsche Bahn.
Russian and European Union officials say the summit will focus on "deliverables" including the first tentative steps towards a cherished Russian goal of visa-free travel in and out of the bloc.
Some short trips will be made easier once biometric passports are introduced alongside other changes.
Ahead of Friday's signing in Geneva of Russia's World Trade Organization accession, 18 years in the negotiation, an EU official said the focus would now move to opening negotiations on an EU-Russia agreement covering trade and political cooperation.
Before that EU leaders will press Medvedev on "democratic development, the rule of law and human rights," the official said, following parliamentary elections that sparked mass street protests and left Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling party with a sharply reduced majority.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the former EU government minister said democratisation was "definitely an issue," although he nuanced the scale of EU ambitions with such a "critical partner" as Russia -- not least in Western moves on Syria and Iran.
Ashton herself hinted on Tuesday at a less strident tone when she said that "large demonstrations over the weekend in Russia were peaceful -- and the authorities in my view generally handled it very well."
Of more immediate concern will be the latest row about gas provision, with the EU official detecting an "increasingly hostile" tone from Moscow, particularly on an EU agreement to negotiate a Trans-Caspian pipeline with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
In February, Putin put his foot down in Brussels talks with Barroso, demanding the right to make a profit on Russian gas.
The tricky area for the EU is seeing if Russia could provide additional backing to a pledge by EU states to boost IMF crisis defences with loans of 200 billion euros ($265 billion). At a summit on Friday, EU leaders set a deadline for pledges or ideas of Monday 19 December.
Financial aid for the eurozone "will certainly be on the agenda," said the official directly involved in summit preparations.
But another source close to Barroso told AFP there was next to no expectation of an announcement on this front. "It would be a happy surprise, let's say," he said.
Russia's veteran ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said Monday that his country's leaders "are considering this option," but added that Moscow had no intention of joining an "offshore" Luxembourg-based scheme, in what was taken to be a clear reference to the struggling European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bailout fund.
© 2011 AFP