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Russia: Foreign Minister Meets EU Officials

Brussels, 9 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov meets today in Stockholm with European Union foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana and other top EU officials for talks expected to focus on Kaliningrad and energy cooperation.

The EU delegation includes Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, representing the current EU presidency, and Foreign Minister Louis Michel of Belgium, which assumes the rotating presidency on 1 July.

The meeting takes place amid a flurry of high-level contacts between the EU and Russia. It follows a visit to Moscow in February by the EU troika and is expected to pave the way for Russian President Vladimir Putin's planned visit to Stockholm later this month. The officials also are expected to prepare the agenda for the next EU-Russia summit, due to be held in Moscow in May.

Our Brussels correspondent reports the EU is keen to show that its growing contacts with Moscow are producing tangible results. But so far the results have been negligible.

An EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that the delegation will take with it an agenda that consists mostly of problems and offers little in the way of solutions.

The official says little progress is expected on issues to which Moscow gives high priority. They include Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, energy cooperation, and the EU's project for a rapid reaction force.

On Kaliningrad, the EU says its main concern is the problem of the free movement of people between the Russian area and its neighbors. The exclave is surrounded by Poland and Lithuania, both of which are candidates for EU membership. Even before the two countries enter the EU, they are expected to introduce visa requirements for Kaliningrad residents.

At this stage, the EU is not ready to commit itself to any particular solution on free movement. The same goes for Kaliningrad's energy supplies after enlargement. The EU delegation is expected today to announce new plans to study the problem.

On wider energy cooperation with Russia, the EU will have little new to say. Four working groups set up after last year's EU-Russia summit in Paris have barely become operational.

As for the Union's plans to form a rapid reaction defense force, Russia is expected to want to discuss setting up concrete consultative mechanisms. The EU, however, is expected to point out that any talk of institutionalized consultations is premature as the force is still years away from becoming reality.

The two sides are also expected to discuss Chechnya and the situation in the south Caucasus.

On Chechnya, the EU will tell Russia that although the forthcoming summit in May will mostly deal with economic issues, the Union will voice its concerns on this issue. Although Brussels welcomes Moscow's recent announcement that it was down-scaling Russia's military presence in the breakaway republic, it remains worried about the human rights situation in Chechnya.

Russia will also be called upon to work together with the international community toward resolving regional conflicts in the southern Caucasus. The EU will tell Moscow that its stance on the conflicts in Abkhazia, Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh will be an important test for its role in the region.

The two sides are also expected to discuss recent customs procedures introduced by Russia. The measures were intended to reduce fraud, but they have caused chaos on the Finnish-Russian border -- which is also the EU-Russia border. They permit officials to empty all containers for inspection and detain trucks and trains for up to 14 days.

The EU official says that although the intentions behind the measures are laudable, Russia appears to lack the personnel and resources to make the exercise work in practice.