The EU-Russia summit in Paris yesterday indicates Russia is well on its way toward normalizing relations with the European Union. After meeting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, French President Jacques Chirac described the EU-Russia relationship as "mature and well-established." Our correspondent reports that this time there may be more to Chirac's words than a mere wish to be courteous to his guest.
Paris, 31 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- On the evidence provided by yesterday's European Union-Russia summit in Paris, the phrase "a man we can do business with" -- although it remained unspoken -- could have been invented by the EU for Vladimir Putin. By all accounts, EU officials seemed carried away by the Russian president's intellect and pleasant manner.
Hardly a discordant note was struck during the meetings. Both sides appeared eager to bury past differences over issues such as the West's policy in the Balkans, alleged Russian corruption, and Russia's military campaign in Chechnya.
The main item on the agenda was proposed cooperation in the energy field, which is expected to form the cornerstone of future EU-Russia relations. The EU has proposed a plan to provide equipment and capital to develop Russian oil and natural gas in exchange for Russian energy.
Putin said both Russia and the EU would gain from expanded oil, gas, and electricity exports from Russia to the EU.
"Cooperation in the sphere of energy is important for Russia, as it means that additional capital is invested in the Russian economy, and for the [European Union] it is important as it diversifies the risks the EU faces in the field of energy."
Putin was praised by EU diplomats for saying Russia would apply stringent EU environmental standards for transporting energy.
The contentious issue of future transit routes for oil and gas was not officially discussed. However, Putin confirmed Russia's intention to rely less heavily on Ukraine in the future. Russia has accused Ukraine of siphoning off energy from existing pipelines and pocketing the profits.
Both sides also appeared to agree on the issue of the EU's planned expansion into Central and Eastern Europe.
EU diplomats say Putin went out of his way to indicate Russia sees the planned expansion -- which could eventually include the Baltic states and several former Warsaw Pact countries -- not as a threat but as an opportunity. Speaking to journalists, Putin said enlargement would help Russia bring its legislation into line with EU norms.
The two sides disagree on Russia's military campaign in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. But even here, French President Jacques Chirac took pains to reassure Putin that the positions of the two sides are not far apart:
"The EU has reiterated its position, which is one of respect for the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. [We] condemn terrorism, and [stress] the need to respect the obligations taken [by Russia], notably within the framework of the OSCE and the Council of Europe. [We] prioritize humanitarian aid, [and recognize] the urgent necessity of a political solution as a precondition for the long-term resolution of this difficult crisis."
Putin said Russia realizes that the Chechen crisis can only be resolved by political means. He said Moscow was ready for dialogue with Chechen separatists, adding that Russia was "sincerely" trying to separate Chechen freedom fighters from simple murderers and terrorists. Putin then emphatically said Russia was not going to enter any dialogue with religious fanatics who use arms to further their political aims.
"I would like to draw your attention to the fact that even the possibility of a dialogue with such people (religious fanatics) is unacceptable to us. Because even the very readiness for dialogue for this category of people will not be seen by them as an act of political tolerance, but as a sign of weakness which only increases their aggression. This is evident today for all of us [in areas] from Indonesia to Kosovo."
Putin says if Europe does not find effective means to cope with religious fundamentalism, it too will face the same dangers as Russia has in Chechnya.
Another important milestone of the summit was the opening of a bilateral dialogue on the EU's fledgling security and defense policy.
Russia would like to participate as fully as possible in the EU's future military and crisis management operations, and has asked for the setting up of various consultative bodies for that purpose.
EU diplomats say nothing on that issue is likely to be decided before the EU summit in Nice in December.