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EU, Russia Vow to Strengthen Ties - 2003-11-06

Russian President Vladimir Putin and European Union leaders have vowed to strengthen ties and work together for stability and security in Europe.

The summit went smoothly, and EU and Russian officials agreed on strengthening dialogue and cooperation. They signed two joint declarations in which the two sides said they will make greater efforts in political and security matters.

The declarations also said that negotiations to bring Russia into the World Trade Organization could be completed successfully by the end of 2004. They also confirmed the will to examine the conditions for visa-free travel.

Talks at the summit also focused on the consequences of EU enlargement for Russia. The meeting was the last before eight of Moscow's former satellite countries join the European Union in May 2004.

The EU security policy chief, Javier Solana, said there will be 25 union members and a new constitution when the next summit is held.

"Both things are going to give, without any doubt, an important push about the relation between the European Union and the Russian Federation - more members, a new constitution, markets wider, more wish to cooperate among ourselves," he said. "Therefore, the next summit will be even more important than this one."

The Russian leader defended his country's actions in Chechnya, and blamed international terrorists for the continuing violence there. He said those who criticize the Russian military in Chechnya have a double standard of denouncing terrorists in some countries, but not in Chechnya.

Mr. Putin also rejected criticism that the Kremlin's treatment of the oil company Yukos and the arrest of its former chief, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was politically motivated. He said the fraud and tax evasion charges against Mr. Khodorkovsky were "guided by the fact that we want to put our house in order, to make everybody live according to the law and to combat corruption."

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who hosted the meeting as rotating president of the European Union, said the discussions with Mr. Putin also included international terrorism, and both sides agreed on the need to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people as soon as possible.