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Focus of Putin-EU Summit Includes Economics, Terror - 2001-09-30

Russian President Vladimir Putin travels to Brussels this week for a Russia-European Union summit meeting. While much of the agenda will focus on economic matters, the recent terrorist attacks in the United States will bring a whole new dimension to the meeting.

The primary purpose of President Putin's trip will be a meeting with European leaders in Brussels, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

Trade and economic matters are high on the agenda, especially a long-term plan for the EU to tap into Russia's large oil and gas reserves.

Buying more oil from Russia would, in many ways, be far more economical for Europe, and also lessen its dependence on supplies from the Middle East.

However the fight against terrorism will share center stage at the summit.

Mr. Putin was praised during a visit to Germany last week after he said Russia and other former Soviet states would open their air space and provide other support.

Mr. Putin also wants to discuss the EU's common defense and security policy, which includes the establishment of a rapid reaction military force.

Security issues will be the focus of a meeting between Mr. Putin and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.

Their meeting comes after Russian and NATO defense ministers agreed, in discussions last week, to work more closely together on fighting terrorism.

None of this would have been imaginable just two years ago, when Russia froze all relations with NATO to protest the alliance's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

At the same time, Russian officials have said they expect the West to reciprocate for the new cooperative atmosphere. And Mr. Putin's policies are already bearing fruit.

European leaders and President Bush have toned down their criticism of Russia's ongoing war in Chechnya, a conflict Mr. Putin says is part of the fight against terrorism.

Disagreements over other issues such as NATO plans to expand further into eastern Europe have also been put on hold -- at least for the time being.