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EC President Confirms Agreement with Russia - 2004-04-23

European Commission President, Romano Prodi, says Russia will extend a cooperation agreement it has with the European Union to cover former Soviet states about to join the European Union.

After months of negotiations, Russia has agreed to extend its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Europe to include the former communist countries joining the enlarged European Union on May 1.

Mr. Prodi announced in Moscow that an amendment to the agreement, which exists to encourage political, commercial, economic and cultural cooperation between Russia and the EU, will be signed on Tuesday in Luxembourg.

Not long ago Russia was threatening the European Union with a trade war, threatening to double customs duties on imports from the new EU member states if the agreement had to be extended to include them.

Moscow's main concern was that the new pact would hurt exports to the former Soviet States.

But the European Commission president believes enlargement will in fact create more favorable conditions for Russian exports.

He says energy supplies, which make-up more than 50 percent of Russia's exports to EU countries, are exempt from charges and quotas.

Mr. Prodi says progress has been made on terms for Russia's entry to the World Trade Organization by the end of 2004.

He also repeated calls for Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol soon. The pact that is intended to combat global warming cannot come into effect without Russia's agreement.

The Commission chief says he welcomes President Putin's pledge to strengthen the multi-party system and media freedom in Russia. On Chechnya he says he understands Russia's territorial concerns, but underlined the need to respect human rights while fighting terrorism.

Russia's lawmakers continue to stress that Russia's interests must be honored in the course of EU enlargement. According to Russian news agencies, they are still concerned over transit terms between Russia and its enclave Kaliningrad. Another key worry is what Russia sees as an 'encroachment' on the rights of Russian-speaking residents in the Baltic countries set to join the EU on the first of May.