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Russian, European Leaders Hold Informal Summit

Lisa Bryant

Russian and European leaders are meeting in Finland Friday for an informal summit at a time when a number of issues - including energy and Russian-Georgian tensions - cloud relations between the two sides.

Energy is expected to top the agenda of Russian and European Union leaders meeting north of Helsinki. The Europeans want stable oil and gas supplies from Russia, and for Moscow to cut its prices. And they want Russia to remove stumbling blocks to European investment in that country's energy sector. But during interviews with European media ahead of the summit, Russian officials have suggested they are unlikely to yield to such demands.

According to Anton Koslov, a Russian expert at Paris XI university, Russia is unlikely to open up its energy sector for two simple reasons: It does not want to - and it does not have to.

"They're trying to elbow out westerners from the gas sector particularly, also the oil sector. And no, they will not [open up the energy sector]," he said. "Because they're in the position to tell and to decide and not to listen. Because its their gas and their oil."

Besides energy issues, the Europeans are reportedly concerned by what they see as a more authoritarian Russia. That includes Russia's tough handling of tensions with Georgia, and the murder earlier this month of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed to find the killers of Politkovskaya, who reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya, but critics in Europe fear a growing intolerance toward free expression in Russia.

Despite the differences, Koslov believes relations between the two sides remain solid.

"In terms of commercial exchanges, everything is taking place as usual," he said. "I don't think there's any real tension. If you think about it, russia has pretty good relations with France - when Putin was in France he received from Chirac the Legion d'Honneur [France's highest medal]."

And Koslov notes Russia traditionally has good relations with Germany, which takes over the EU presidency in January. And Germany and France, he says, are the two European nations that count the most in the 25-nation EU.

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