Russia-EU 1stLd-Writethru 06-27
Energy disputes sour Russia, European Union summit
Eds: RECASTS and UPDATES throughout with quotes, details from meeting.
AP Photo DL101
By DAVID NOWAK
Associated Press Writer
KHANTY-MANSIISK, Russia (AP) — Disputes over energy investment and human rights hung over a Russia-European Union summit Friday where the two sides agreed they would try to address their differences in new talks on a stalled cooperation agreement.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the EU representatives said they would start talks next week in Brussels on a wide-ranging Russia-EU cooperation deal.
"The future agreement will be an instrument to draw Russia and the European Union closer," Medvedev said after the talks in the Siberian oil boomtown of Khanty-Mansiisk.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso hailed a "sincere and open" atmosphere at the talks and said the new agreement should "open a new chapter in our relations."
The existing 10-year agreement signed in 1997 was automatically renewed pending the delays on reaching a new one, but the old deal has lost much of its meaning thanks to Russia’s new oil and gas wealth and more assertive foreign policy stance.
The EU wants Moscow to open its vast energy sector to investors, but the Kremlin intends to maintain its control over Russia’s oil and gas riches and energy pipelines.
Moscow, for its part, has pushed for better access to European markets.
"Russia remains a key energy supplier for the EU; the EU will remain Russia’s most important export market," Barroso said. "For both of us, as producers and consumers, energy security is paramount. In this era of high energy prices this is a message our citizens understand only too well."
The EU is represented by Barroso, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The bloc’s trade chief, Peter Mandelson, said energy security can only be guaranteed if Russia joins the World Trade Organization.
Russia, the only major country still outside the WTO, still faces major barriers to membership even after 14 years of negotiations to join the 152-member body, which sets the rules on global trade.
The summit gives the EU a chance to test the intentions of Medvedev, who was inaugurated in early May. While his predecessor and mentor, Vladimir Putin, rolled back many post-Soviet democratic reforms during his eight-year tenure, Medvedev has vowed to protect the rule of law, media freedom and human rights.
Skeptics in Russia and the West say Medvedev’s pledges are no more than rhetoric and expect him to toe the course of his predecessor, now Russia’s prime minister.
The EU wants Russia to commit to bolstering democratic reforms and preserving human rights as part of the new "strategic partnership" agreement it hopes to have in force by July 2009.
Russia, which has bristled at Western criticism of its democracy record, has urged the EU to pay more attention to what it calls abuse of ethnic Russian rights in the ex-Soviet Baltic nations, which are now EU members.
Ferrero-Waldner said the EU also wants a bigger role in solving the so-called frozen conflict in Georgia, where the government is struggling to bring two separatist regions — Abkhazia and South Ossetia — back under central control. Russia maintains close ties with the regions.
Russia and the EU have also argued over security issues. Moscow objected to Kosovo’s Western-backed independence and opposed U.S. plans to deploy missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic — plans that have been supported by EU nations.