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Russia, EU Agree Key Framework Treaty on Closer Cooperation

Russia and the European Union have agreed on a new framework treaty aimed at encouraging closer cooperation in areas like the economy, external security, research and education.

Negotiators from Russia and the European Union worked on the wording of the new partnership accord right up to the last minute, to reach agreement during the one day summit in Moscow.

Several months ago, a similar summit in the Netherlands broke up amid bitter recriminations from Russia that the European Union was allowing itself to be influenced into taking an anti-Russia stance by new EU members from the former Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

The accord was signed Tuesday afternoon, during a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council Secretary-General Javier Solana.

Russia has long been wary of being shut out of the new, expanded Europe, which last year welcomed 10 new EU members, eight of which were former communist countries. But on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the accord, saying it represents a big step toward the creation of a Europe free from walls, or barriers.

In remarks broadcast on Russian television, Mr. Putin also said he hopes the new partnership agreement will create lasting conditions for more dynamic development between the European Union and Russia.

EU officials say the agreement provides the basis for regular cooperation on key issues like trade and development. Russia is the European Union's fifth-largest trading partner, while the European bloc is the biggest destination for Russian exports.

The director of Russia's Center for Problems of European Security, Tatyana Parkhalina, says EU countries, as well as Russia, stand to gain quite a lot from the accord.

"Europe would like to shape [a] healthy, and effective, and cooperative security system on our continent," she said. "Plus, Europe is interested in this partnership, because Europeans do understand well that, in the fight against international terrorism, for non-proliferation, against new security challenges and threats, European countries and European institutions and Euro-Atlantic institutions, they need such partner as Russia."

Ms. Parkhalina is optimistic that the decision to put off resolving the more challenging issues for the time being, in order to clinch the treaty deal, will pay off in the end. Decisions still to come center around Russia's demand for visa-free travel for its citizens wanting to go to Europe, and the European Union's desire to see Russia agree to return Russian nationals and others who enter the union illegally.