Poland signals openness to Russia ahead of EU helm

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Poland's president told the leaders of EU heavyweights France and Germany Monday that Warsaw wanted to boost cooperation with Russia as it gears up to assume the bloc's presidency later this year.

Poland is the largest member of the former Soviet bloc countries which are now anchored in both the European Union and NATO, two organisations that have had strained ties in recent years with Moscow.

But after hosting a summit with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski said he wanted to extend the welcome mat to Russian leaders at future gatherings.

"It would be recommended and desirable if we could succeed in the future to initiate such a meeting with the Russian president invited as a guest," Komorowski told reporters.

Merkel and Sarkozy travelled to the Polish capital to attend a summit of the Weimar Triangle -- a forum created in 1991 to help Poland make the transition from communism to democracy and a market economy.

Warsaw's relations with Moscow are complicated by history and tensions were exacerbated by last year's fatal air crash in Russia which killed Komorowski's predecessor Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other senior Polish leaders.

Speaking at the same post-summit press conference, Sarkozy gave his support to what he called Poland's "determination...to tighten cooperation between Poland and Russia."

"This coincides with the decisions we have taken with Chancellor Merkel," Sarkozy added.

The German Chancellor vowed "firm" and "wholehearted" support for Warsaw's focus on shaping the EU's eastern policy towards the former Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine during its upcoming six months at the EU helm from July.

Warsaw has spearheaded EU efforts to support the pro-democracy opposition to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko after his brutal December 19 post-election crackdown on protestors who accused him of vote-rigging.

The EU and US have slapped visa and asset freeze sanctions on Lukashenko who was sworn in for a fourth term in office on January 21 amid a boycott by EU ambassadors.

The three leaders also focused on deepening EU security and defence policy in what was the first such Weimar Triangle summit since December 2006.

Merkel and Sarkozy also met Komorowski as the 17-nation eurozone gears up for a special March summit spearheaded by Berlin and Paris to finalise efforts to avoid a fresh debt crisis.

Poland is not member of the eurozone and has been cautious about setting a target entry date in light of the single currency's recent problems.

As the summit got under way, about 200 Solidarity trade unionists rallied outside Warsaw's 17th century royal Wilanow palace, protesting moves by French electricity giant EdF to take over Poland's Enea state-controlled energy group.

© 2011 AFP

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