BRUSSELS -- The European Union used a summit with Russia today to highlight concerns over claims of massive fraud during this month's Russian parliamentary elections.
Russia's December 4 State Duma elections and their aftermath -- including the detention of demonstrators -- were not officially on the agenda of the summit, which otherwise focused on economic and visa liberalization issues.
But the EU made clear in the run-up that it would raise its worries with Dmitry Medvedev during his last summit with the bloc as Russia's president.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy told a news conference after the summit that the EU had been perturbed by election monitors' reports of irregularities and lack of fairness in the December 4 vote, and about the detention of protesters.
On the other hand, Van Rompuy did note that "the recent large demonstrations were peaceful and the authorities, in my view, handled it very well."
Tens of thousands of Russians protested in Moscow on December 10 and on previous days calling for the election to be rerun after widespread allegations the vote was rigged to favor the ruling United Russia party.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (second from left) before the start of the EU-Russia summit
Van Rompuy stopped short of asking for a re-run of the elections, which a European Parliament resolution had called for this week.
At a press conference on December 15 after the summit, Medvedev roundly criticized that call by the EU assembly.
"This is our election and the European Parliament has nothing to do with it," he said. "[European Parliament members] may comment on anything they want, but I'm not going to comment on their decisions. They mean nothing to me."
Medvedev also added the European Union had problems with human rights, especially when it comes to Russian-speaking minorities in EU member states.
"We have our own problems in Russia, but there are problems in the European Union, too," he said. "There are problems with the rights of Russian-speaking citizens in several [EU] countries, the well-known facts of xenophobia, extremism, and neo-Nazism in a number of countries of the European Union."
Lifting Visa Requirements
One of the few concrete results of the meeting was an agreement on conditions for the lifting of European Union visa requirements for Russian citizens.
The common steps, as the agreement is called, will mainly push Russia to upgrade its standards in areas such as the introduction of biometric passports, data protection, and the re-admission of illegal migrants -- changes that together can take up to five years.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso maintained that the ultimate goal is to achieve complete visa liberalization.
"We have launched the common steps towards visa-free travel," he said. "This decision has clear potential benefits for our citizens and for people-to-people contacts. In order to achieve real progress, the task ahead of us is to fully implement the agreed common steps, which can lead to the opening of visa-waiver negotiations."
Russia has insisted that negotiations for visa liberalization should be initiated automatically once it has met the conditions, but several EU member states have refused to guarantee such a move.
Possible Eurozone Investment
Meanwhile, Medvedev said at the December 15 news conference that Russia would look into possible investment in the International Monetary Fund to shore up the eurozone, but made no reference to any specific Russian contribution.
"We will abide by the commitments we have as a participant in the International Monetary Fund and we are ready to invest the necessary financial means in order to support the European economy and the eurozone," he said.
Earlier, on the sidelines of the summit, Kremlin economic aide Arkady Dvorkovich reiterated a promise by Russia to provide at least $10 billion in funds for the eurozone via the IMF.
The EU is Moscow's biggest trade partner, with trade totaling $286 billion between January and September of this year. The 27-member bloc is also the largest consumer of Russian gas.
With agency reports