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EU, Russia Discuss Economy, International Relations

  • Peter Fedynsky

Russia and the European Union have concluded a summit that focused on economic and trade issues, but failed to reach agreement on visa-free travel for Russian citizens in Europe. Both sides are also calling for an impartial investigation into Monday's Israeli commando raid on a ship carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip.

Summit host, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, told a final summit news conference in the city of Rostov-on-Don that participants reviewed cooperation between Russia and the European Union on such matters as high tech, energy efficiency, green growth, and climate change. Russia did not get a long-awaited okay for visa-free travel by its citizens to the EU. However, both sides confirmed the importance of Russian membership in the World Trade Organization. Mr. Medvedev noted Russia is the only member of the G20 that does not belong to the WTO. He said the decision is up to others, including the United States.

The Kremlin leader says Russia's ongoing WTO discussions with America are not simple. He says it is time for everyone, including the United States, to decide that Russian WTO membership is not a carrot that is always offered as a sort of prize for good behavior.

Russian behavior did come up during the summit. EU President Herman Van Rompuy praised Mr. Medvedev's ambition to modernize Russia by encouraging civil society as a significant development for the country.

"However, the situation for human rights defenders and journalists in Russia is of great concern to the European public at large," said Van Rompuy. "Another matter of concern, which I know is shared by the president, is the climate of impunity, particularly in Chechnya and other areas of the North Caucasus."

Summit participants welcomed the new U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Agreement, and agreed that Iran's nuclear program remains a source of concern. EU President Van Rompuy said the purpose of international sanctions against Iran is to bring it back to the negotiating table. The summit also issued a joint declaration regarding Israel's operation on Monday against an aid flotilla to Gaza.

"We regret the loss of lives during the Israeli military operation against the flotilla sailing to Gaza," Mr. Van Rompuy added. "We demand a full and impartial inquiry, and call for an immediate opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods, and people to and from Gaza."

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said people and economies are ever more connected and interdependent in today's fast-changing world. He noted economies rely not only on regulations and common standards, but also on the rule of law, civil society and other values.