Russia dangles eurozone aid offer at EU summit

15th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia dangled a $20-billion offer of IMF-run aid for the eurozone on Thursday, as President Dmitry Medvedev entered his last summit with EU leaders split on energy, Syria and Iran.

Russia said it is willing to pump up to 20 billion dollars into an emergency eurozone rescue, as the two sides cheweed over European demands for clean elections to replace Medvedev in March.

As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said back in Russia he was "pleased" by Russia's outburst of protests, Medvedev adviser Arkady Dvorkovich said Moscow was ready to contribute as soon as the IMF calls in its help.

He said after talks that began overnight that 10 billion dollars due to be returned from the IMF next year could remain with the IMF "today" for special eurozone aid as soon as the Fund calls.

"Ten billion dollars is the minimum commitment," Dvorkovich said. "We are ready to contribute our portion of financial assistance... when the IMF tell us it's time."

EU states have pledged 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.

Dvorkovich said Moscow would "consider" giving another 10 billion dollars, depending on "the size of the gap" in European efforts to raise overall rescue funding to a targeted one trillion euros.

"If the gap is half a trillion and we don't know where other 490 billion are coming from, that would not be much point," he said.

"What we need to do is make markets believe," he said, adding that Brazil, China, India and South Africa, the other so-called BRICS emerging giants, "will not object" to the IMF channelling money to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).

After Medvedev joined EU leaders for a private dinner the previous evening, he said "European leaders seem to be more optimistic than before.

"In Cannes when we had the same discussion during G20 meetings, they were silent on everything.

"Now they were able to say very specific things."

The summit proper gathered EU president Herman Van Rompuy, executive head Jose Manuel Barroso, foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

Medvedev was joined by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov plus Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina, and was due to hold a press conference at around 1:45 pm (1245 GMT).

He was also due to speak at a subsequent round-table from 1400 GMT with business leaders from giant industrial corporations such as Siemens or Deutsche Bahn.

The money aside, which remains conditional and dependent on IMF decisions, 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, talks will also explore whether an EU-Russia agreement covering trade and political cooperation can cross leaders' radar.

Before that EU leaders were to press Medvedev on "democratic development, the rule of law and human rights," an EU official said, following parliamentary elections that sparked mass street protests and left Putin's ruling party with a reduced majority.

Russia nonetheless remains a "critical partner" for the West in 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."

The EU and Russia were also far apart on a Trans-Caspian pipeline which Brussels is now negotiating with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

© 2011 AFP

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