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Russia, EU Meet for Mending Relations

Russia, EU Meet for Mending Relations
Russia, EU Meet for Mending Relations
Lisa Bryant

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Russian and European Union leaders are meeting in Stockholm Wednesday in an effort to mend relations damaged last year by Russia's war with Georgia and a gas cut off.  The two sides remain at odds on many issues.

During the one-day meeting in Stockholm, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and European Union leaders are expected to discuss a number of issues, including energy security, climate, trade and human rights. The meeting is being hosted by Sweden, the current EU president.  It aims to build a new partnership between the two sides.

They moved forward on that Monday, when the EU and Russia signed an energy early-warning agreement to avoid a possible disruption in supplies of oil, gas and electricity.  The deal aims to avoid the kind of cut off that took place last January, when some European countries were left without enough heat because of a dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

But analysts like Tomas Valasek believe that, although ties have improved since the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, Europe and Russia remain far apart on many substantive issues.  Valasek is head of foreign and defense policy at the Center for European Reform in London.

"They are moving away from the August 2008 situation [the Russia-Georgia war], when the EU, as a whole, condemned Russia for its behavior and ties were really frozen and tense. But they're not moving back to what they were before - to the status quo ante," he said.   "We're not moving back to any hope of a gradual rapprochement or a gradual alignment or strategic partnership."

Valasek says, before 2008, there was hope Russia and the EU would grow into strategic partners and form a relationship that might balance American influence in the world.  He says today,  the two sides are at odds about basic issues like democracy, human rights and transparency.

Still, they do share economic and energy interests.  Europe depends on Russia's natural gas for heating and the EU is Russia's biggest trading partner . Germany, for one, is eyeing closer business ties with Russia.

"The economic relationship will continue to be the bond. Europe's relationship with Russia's energy exports will increase, in the short run.  Europe will certainly depend [more] on Russia in the coming years than it does currently," said Valasek.

The EU will also be pushing Russia to make a stronger commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses before a December climate change summit in Copenhagen.  Europe also wants clarity from Moscow about whether or not it intends to join the World Trade Organization.

 

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