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Russia, EU seek to bridge gulfs in Far East

Russian and EU leaders sought to thrash out differences on energy and security at a summit held deep in the Far East in an apparent bid by Russia to convince Europe of its power.

President Dmitry Medvedev opened a second day of talks in the city of Khabarovsk with the EU delegation led by Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and Czech President Vaclav Klaus, whose country holds the rotating presidency.

"Today we will continue the discussions on the financial crisis, as well as the situation in energy and the formulation of a new architecture for European security," Medvedev said.

The choice of Khabarovsk as summit venue -- 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) from Moscow but a mere 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Chinese border -- is seen as a reminder from Russia of its status as the world's largest country.

It may also be a warning that Russia -- which has made building trade with China a priority -- has other partners if the European Union proves uncooperative.

Medvedev has said the city had been chosen so that the EU leaders -- who are coping with a nine hour time difference and ten hour flight -- "have the opportunity to appreciate Russia's greatness."

"Khabarovsk is on the eastern border of the space from Lisbon to (Russia's Pacific city of) Vladivostok that is called greater Europe," he told the EU leaders.

"I hope these days will help us to understand the tasks and partnership of Russia and the European Union."

Russia and Europe endured one of their worst-ever crises in January, on the heels of the controversy over the Georgia war, when Moscow cut off gas supplies to Europe in a standoff with Ukraine.

Underlining the tensions, top Kremlin foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said the summit would touch on the prickliest subjects between the two sides, including Ukraine and last month's rioting in Moldova.

"We have questions for our colleagues about the events in Moldova. We don't intend to have a conflict but we are going to talk quite seriously," he said, accusing Romania of "pouring oil onto the fire" during the events.

Prikhodko added that Medvedev would be "interested to hear the Europeans' plans over the continued threat for the European Union over the lack of regularization in our relations with Ukraine on gas."

The two sides are also in the process of negotiating a new basic and legally-binding agreement on bilateral ties to replace the existing Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which has run out.

Talks on the new pact, which has concerned some ex-Soviet bloc EU members, were held up by dispute over the Georgia war, but there have been expectations they could strike a deal by the end of the year.

Russia's envoy to the EU Vladimir Chizhov indicated however that the two sides were in no hurry.

"Neither Russia nor the EU is going to make deadlines, what counts is the quality of the future document, it needs to go further and be better" than the previous one, he said.

Russia also renewed a call Medvedev made last month for a new global energy charter to replace the Energy Charter Treaty adopted in 1991 to integrate the energy sectors of the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.

Chizhov said the idea had already met with an "interested" response from Europe. However analysts have been sceptical that the summit will produce concrete results.

"There is still a long way to go before we see progress on the Energy Charter, on the issue of next gas pipelines, on investment access for both sides," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at the UralSib investment bank in Moscow.

"A new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement seems as far off as ever," he added.

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Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:May 22, 2009
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