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EU: In Summit Talks Putin To Focus On International Terrorism

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Russian President Vladimir Putin this morning began the third day of his visit to Brussels. Having already met with Belgian leaders, Putin was expected to hold summit talks today with the European Union and meet NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports that the meetings will be dominated by the issue of international terrorism.

Brussels, 3 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Although today's Russia-European Union summit takes place according to a long pre-determined schedule, its planned agenda has been radically altered by the events of 11 September.

Reijo Kemppinen, a European Commission spokesman, said that the attacks mean that "issues linked to terrorism will dominate the atmosphere and discussions at the summit."

According to Kemppinen, EU leaders welcomed Putin's recent speech at the German Parliament, where he promised to anchor Russia firmly in "Europe and European values."

Kemppinen also said the EU had noted "with satisfaction" that Russia was assisting the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and had applied pressure on Central Asian countries to collaborate with the United States.

EU approval of Russia's stance on the antiterrorist effort is likely be bolstered by Putin's remarks last night, when he told journalists after meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt that Russia was prepared to "profoundly" review its relations with the EU and NATO.

Putin also expressed strong support of planned U.S. military action against the Taliban, saying Russia needs no further proof of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden's involvement in the 11 September attacks.

As Belgium currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, Prime Minister Verhofstadt will also head the EU delegation meeting Putin today. The delegation will also include the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The meeting is expected to produce two statements -- a traditional joint declaration and a special declaration on terrorism.

EU background material released ahead of the summit notes that the most obvious way for the EU -- which has yet to form a military wing -- to make a direct contribution to the fight against terrorism is to "choke off" the sources of financing for terrorist organizations.

Here, EU diplomats say, the existing Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Russia provides a good legal basis for cooperation. The agreement contains chapters on combating illegal activities, money laundering, and drug trafficking, as well as a protocol on administrative assistance and cooperation between customs authorities.

Besides making better use of the existing provisions, diplomats say, the EU wants more direct cooperation between "enforcement bodies" such as customs, police, and financial regulators. Other key areas for further cooperation include improved exchange of information on terrorist activities, arms trafficking, and curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

European Commission officials have privately rejected suggestions that the EU follow the apparent example of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and take a softer stance on Russia's war in Chechnya. Officials say that although the EU will acknowledge Russia's territorial concerns, it will continue demanding full respect for human rights and a political solution to the conflict. These concerns, EU sources say, will feature in today's joint declaration.

The EU delegation is also likely to raise the issue of Russian army bases in Georgia and Moldova, where Moscow is either in breach of earlier agreements on withdrawal of troops or is close to violating them.

A second major item on today's agenda is the Russia-EU "energy dialogue." Launched a year ago, it has now reached the end of what EU officials term the "exploratory phase." Commission officials frequently criticize what they describe as the widespread conflation of the energy dialogue with finding new routes for the export of Russian oil and gas to the EU. Rather, officials say, the aim of the dialogue is to create legal and economic conditions in Russia to enable international investors to return on a viable basis.

Finally, today's Russia-EU joint declaration is also expected to set up a "high-level working group" to elaborate the concept of a "Common European Economic Space," and to prepare a report by 2003. A European Commission expert who asked not to be named described the initiative -- first conceived at the last EU-Russia summit in Paris in May -- as a "regulatory exercise."

The expert said the sequence of EU economic priorities would run from facilitating Russia's entry into the WTO through the process of "regulatory alignment" to the eventual creation of a free-trade zone.