Sat, June 11, 2011
World > Europe

Rifts, mistrust overshadow Russia-EU relations

2011-06-11 13:55:19 GMT2011-06-11 21:55:19(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia, June 11 (Xinhua) -- Ahead of a Russia-EU summit in the western Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, either side was expecting the other to compromise on recent rifts, including the disputes on a vegetable ban and human rights.

However, to their disappointment, the summit wrapped up on Friday with no major breakthroughs on these issues, showing signs that Russia-EU relations are still overshadowed by lingering mistrust and unresolved disputes.

"VEGGIE SUMMIT"

The Nizhny Novgorod meeting was called a "veggie summit" because Russia's import ban on EU fresh vegetables was high on the agenda.

The European Union in recent days has pressed Russia to lift its ban on EU fresh vegetables, which was imposed after the E. coli outbreak in Germany.

However, after the summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a press conference that Moscow would lift its ban only after receiving details of the source of the outbreak.

Russia's top health official Gennady Onishchenko, who also attended the summit, said the two sides were approaching a settlement. But he would not say when the ban would be lifted.

The EU, which Moscow has turned to for its bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), believed Russia's ban contradicts WTO rules and sours bilateral ties.

Russian media reports warn that EU's protest may dim Russia's hope to join the WTO by the end of this year.

After the summit, Medvedev said there was a "very high" chance that the country might join the WTO before the end of 2011, while European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso echoed him, saying Russia's WTO accession "is still possible this year."

HUMAN RIGHTS OR MUTUAL MISTRUST

Besides the vegetable ban, human rights were also discussed at the summit.

On the eve of the summit, the European Parliament passed a resolution outlining conditions for better EU-Russia ties. The resolution urged Moscow to do more to protect basic human rights by ending "politically motivated court decisions," remove curbs on press freedom and freedom of assembly and pull troops out of Georgia.

After the summit, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said "strong concerns" over Russia's human rights record remained despite Medvedev's "personal engagements."

According to Olga Potemkina, a senior expert from the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, EU's criticism on Russia's human rights record was politically motivated.

Russian analysts said the summit made no substantial progress but just a "routine" one. Some of them believed that the EU was hesitating to talk with Moscow because of the upcoming Russian parliamentary elections due in December.

The EU was waiting for talks on these issues with new Russian leaders after the elections, they said.

The Moscow Times newspaper said Russia-EU summits rarely produced breakthroughs, and this one was unlikely an exception.

There are even suggestions that the two sides save time and money by holding a video conference or by exchanging position papers instead of a summit meeting.

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