News / Europe

EU, Putin Spar Over Human Rights, Trade, Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso (R) and Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, attend a news conference as part of the Russia-EU summit in St. Petersburg, June 4, 2012.Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso (R) and Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, attend a news conference as part of the Russia-EU summit in St. Petersburg, June 4, 2012.
x
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso (R) and Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, attend a news conference as part of the Russia-EU summit in St. Petersburg, June 4, 2012.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso (R) and Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, attend a news conference as part of the Russia-EU summit in St. Petersburg, June 4, 2012.
MOSCOW - European officials met Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss a variety of issues including the Kremlin’s human rights record, trade and the Syria crisis, among other things.

Newly elected President Vladimir Putin defended his country’s human rights record, saying that he had no knowledge of anyone who could be described as a political prisoner in his country. Mr. Putin made the comments after reporters asked about the opposition's demands to free some 40 people who they say are being held as political prisoners.

Mr. Putin’s critics often say that former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky is the country’s number one political prisoner. The European Court of Human Rights stopped short of finding political motives for Khodorkovsky’s 2005 conviction for tax evasion and fraud, but it has yet to rule on his second conviction, which also includes fraud.

President Putin also defended a bill that raises fines for unsanctioned street protests, saying that Russia’s controversial law on rallies is democratic.

Mr. Putin said the violation of rules regulating mass protests is being applied to those who break the rules. He said as far as he knows, everybody is walking freely now, probably preparing for new protests. He says this is normal.

Mr. Putin reclaimed the presidency last month after facing some of Russia's largest protests since the collapse of the Soviet Union. His critics say he rules the country through a tightly controlled political system and corruption - a charge he vehemently denies.

Meanwhile, Russia is expected to join the World Trade Organization at the end of the year after 18 years of negotiations. As a member of the WTO, the Kremlin will be required to abide by global rules.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said European leaders are looking forward to working with Russia.

"We are the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Russia, the biggest client of your biggest export and it is energy," said Barroso. "And we share a common interest in living in a peaceful and stable neighborhood, and in [a] multilateral rules-based international system. In recent years, we achieved much progress in our bilateral relations, working for Russia's WTO accession, with our partnership for modernization, with the common steps for a visa-free dialogue.”

Leaders also touched on the Syria crisis and Russia's defense of the government of President Bashar al-Assad in the face of a violent opposition backlash. The talks failed to resolve differences in how to deal with Syria's 15-month-long conflict.

Speaking at the end of the summit, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the Russian leader and the 27-nation bloc have "some divergent assessments."

In a joint news conference with Mr. Putin, Mr. Van Rompuy said both sides need to work together to achieve an immediate stop to Syria's violence and launch a process of political transition.

The Kremlin has long maintained that dialogue is necessary with both Mr. Assad's government and rebels.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday she told her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, that the focus of international diplomacy on Syria is shifting to a political transition rather than negotiations with Mr. Assad's government.

Syria and Russia remain close allies, and Russia has been a major arms seller to the country as part of a deal that allows Moscow to maintain a naval base there. Western leaders confirmed last week that a Russian ship loaded with weapons for Syrian government forces arrived in the country.

Mr. Putin denies the shipment exists.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs