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Russia Hopes for Improved Relations After EU Expansion - 2004-04-22

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia and the European Union are determined to cooperate after the European Union welcomes 10 mostly former Communist states at the end of next week, but there are still issues to resolve. President Putin said in remarks broadcast on Russian television that Russia and the EU still have some work to do on perfecting the mechanisms of their future cooperation. But during Thursday's talks, he expressed confidence all outstanding issues, from visa rules to future energy cooperation, will be resolved through dialogue.

President Putin said Russia hopes for good relations with the European Union after expansion, so as not to create new divisions between EU members and other countries in the area, like Russia. It has a cooperation agreement with the European Union, and many of the issues being discussed involve applying that agreement to the new EU members.

Russia has long been wary of EU expansion. Among other things, Russian officials worry the country will lose hundreds of millions of dollars when EU quotas and tariffs on Russian goods take effect in the new EU members in Central and Eastern Europe.

The European Union also is exerting increasing pressure on Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol aimed at curbing a form of pollution called greenhouse gases, which many scientists blame for global warming.

European Commission President Romano Prodi reiterated calls for Russia's speedy ratification of the protocol during talks at President Putin's country retreat outside Moscow. Mr. Prodi also pledged to quickly solve all existing problems related to Russia's desired entry into the World Trade Organization.

Russia's Trade and Economic Development Minister German Gref said after separate talks with commission officials in Moscow that there is no longer any risk of a trade conflict between Russia and the European Union.

Mr. Gref declined to provide specifics, but he did say that an agreement had been reached - in principle - on the long-standing problem of cargo transit between mainland Russia and the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, which will be surrounded by EU countries when Poland and Lithuania join the bloc next month.

Russia's new Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, was also present during the talks. Mr. Lavrov later told reporters that the next Russia - EU Summit will be held in Moscow on May 21.

The Russia-EU consultations continue Friday in Moscow.