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EU/Russia: Partnership Agreement Inked At Moscow Summit

Barroso and Putin (file photo) Russian and European Union leaders approved a strategic partnership agreement at a Kremlin summit today, but fell short of agreeing on the most contentious of the package of accords -- those pertaining to visa regulations and on the readmission of illegal migrants. But the summit proved to be an occasion for both sides to mend fences after a series of recent disputes.

Moscow, 10 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- During a joint press conference following EU-Russia talks at the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed that both sides approved a strategic "road map" accord to bolster ties.

He said: "The implementation of the road maps will help us achieve significant progress in building a united Europe without dividing lines; create conditions for free contact among people; considerably increase opportunities for humanitarian and trade and economic cooperation; and ensure effective protection of human rights, including those of ethnic minorities."

Putin said both sides clearly defined their cooperation in the four broad spheres that make up the agreement -- economy, internal and external security, cultural cooperation, and scientific cooperation.

The pact, Putin added, will help Russia and the EU face racism and terrorist threats more efficiently: "The establishment of a unified and indivisible security space will help us fight more effectively the terrorist threat and any manifestations of xenophobia and racial intolerance."

The EU -- represented by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency -- also voiced satisfaction at the outcome of the summit.

Barroso called for barriers to trade and the free movement of people be lifted.

Both sides, however, were unable to strike a deal on easing visa regulations, which has been the most contentious issue in the agreement.

Putin also said Russia was not ready to bow to EU demands to readmit illegal migrants, saying that doing so would violate human rights.

This issue, Putin said, requires much more discussion.

Russia has long demanded complete visa freedom for its citizens to travel in the EU. The EU has rejected this and offers "visa facilitation" -- an exemption from the visa requirement for holders of diplomatic passports, and lower fees and shorter waiting times for other categories.

In return, the EU wants Russia to sign a readmission agreement obliging it to take back persons who have illegally crossed into the EU from its territory. European Commission President Barroso stood firm on the European position.

Russia also failed to sign a controversial border treaties with Estonia and Latvia, although Putin blamed the them for the failure: "We are ready to sign border agreements with Estonia and Latvia as long as they are not accompanied by stupid territorial claims. Today, in the 21st century in Europe, a country making territorial claims to another country while wishing to ratify a border agreement at the same time -- this is complete nonsense."

A mutually recognized border is another prerequisite for any moves on the visa issue. Estonia is ready to sign the treaty without any preconditions, but Latvia has adopted a declaration it wants appended to the treaty suggesting it will not give up its claim on territory absorbed by the Soviet Union in 1945.

Both Russia and the EU, however, used to summit to mend fences after a series of recent diplomatic spats.

Putin hinted that past quarrels have not dented what he described as constructive relations between both sides, saying that "the experience of working on the road maps has once more shown that we are able to reach successful decisions satisfying both sides despite different points of views on a series of issues."

Barroso largely echoed Putin's comments, adding however that the development of democracy and human rights in Russia are fundamental to Russian-EU relations.

The summit was the first held by Russia and the EU since a meeting in the Netherlands last fall during which Russia accused the EU of supporting the uprising that placed the opposition in power in Ukraine.

Russia has expressed some wariness about the EU's expansion last may that included former Soviet bloc countries and three former republics of the Soviet Union.

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