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Russia: Putin, Blair Meet To Mend Fences

Blair (left) and Putin at 10 Downing Street during their 5 October meeting Meeting in London today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. Putin also toured Britain's antiterror meeting room and presented awards to a team of British rescuers who helped save a Russian submarine crew in August. The bilateral meeting, which came a day after an EU-Russia summit, was also aimed at ironing out differences on several divisive issues. These include Moscow's support for the Uzbek government over the Andijon violence, and disagreements over Iran's nuclear program.

Moscow, 5 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Blair and Putin ended their meeting with a joint statement pledging to work together on antiterror efforts.

The brief text said, in part: "Both of our countries have suffered directly from the cruelty and inhumanity of terrorism. Today we confirm our total condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and our decision to strengthen current cooperation in fighting it."

Putin later decorated a team of rescuers responsible for rescuing a Russian minisub trapped on the ocean floor in August. Earlier in the day, he became the first foreign leader to visit "Cobra," the top-security government coordination center for terrorist attacks and other civil emergencies.

The Russian president said his country was well-prepared to cooperate with Britain on antiterror efforts.

"We both understand today's global threats including the threat of terrorism," Putin said. "Russia is very satisfied with the course and the results of our meetings and of course we are grateful for Britain's openness, particularly on sensitive subjects, for the openness we have just witnessed in our discussions about our joint efforts in the fight against terror."

Blair, for his part, said Russia and Britain shared a common fighting spirit in overcoming terrorism.

"Russia and the Russian people, like Britain and the British people, know the threats that this global terrorism poses, but we also share the same spirit of determination not to be defeated by them," Blair said.

The bilateral talks followed on the heels of yesterday's EU-Russia summit. Among other topics, Blair and Putin discussed Britain’s participation in the North European pipeline, which Russia plans to build under the Baltic Sea pipeline to pump gas to Western Europe via Germany.
"Russia and the Russian people, like Britain and the British people, know the threats that this global terrorism poses, but we also share the same spirit of determination not to be defeated by them."

Britain has been showing active interest in Russia's emerging economy, particularly in its thriving energy sector. With Europe looking for ways to meet its growing energy needs, all eyes are turning to Russia as a reliable supplier.

Speaking to reporters following the EU-Russia summit yesterday, Putin stressed European partners would play a key role in the pipeline project.

"We made the strategic decision to allow our European partners to be involved in gas extraction on Russian territory," Putin said. "They accommodated us by admitting us into their distribution network, including in the distribution of electric power, on European territory. Together, we plan to implement large infrastructure projects, including the construction of the North European gas pipeline. The Europeans will control everything from production to the final consumer and we will also participate in that. And this creates an absolutely new situation. So, the rumor of the possible loss of Europe's energy independence is greatly exaggerated."

Observers also described today’s meeting as an attempt to mend fences over a several sensitive issues that have somewhat strained ties between Russian and Britain.

Among them is Iran’s nuclear program, which Russia has been backing despite Western fears Tehran might use civilian energy to produce nuclear weapons.

Russia is helping build Iran’s first nuclear plant and has opposed recent EU calls to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.

That is how Viktor Kremenyuk, the deputy director of Moscow's US-Canada Institute, describes the Kremlin’s stance on Iran.

“We do not want anyone to interfere in our relations with Iran in the nuclear sector," Kremenyuk said. "We have signed an agreement with Iran, we are helping them to develop their nuclear program. This is very important for us since we don’t have any markets left, and everything we do is in the framework of existing agreements.”

Russia has also angered the EU by backing the authoritarian Uzbek government following the bloody suppression of an uprising in the city of Andijon in May. Moscow opposed calls from the EU to allow an international investigation into the violence.

Kremenyuk said Russia’s stance on Andijon illustrates both a desire to consolidate its influence in Central Asia and a distaste for what it perceives as Western meddling.

“Russia wants to retain its presence in Central Asia," Kremenyuk said. "It was against the formation of a commission to investigate these events [in Andijon]. It views this as Uzbekistan’s internal affair, and believes Uzbekistan should deal with it itself.”

Other differences remain as well -- among them, Moscow's anger at Britain's failure to extradite Chechen separatist representative Akhmed Zakaev, who has been granted political asylum in the United Kingdom.

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