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Russia/EU: Summit Ends With Vows To Cooperate On Defense, Foreign Policy

Today's Russia-European Union summit in Brussels concluded with promises of enhanced cooperation that would go beyond joint measures to fight international terrorism. President Vladimir Putin said Russia is aiming for closer regional security cooperation with the EU and will consider working closely with NATO if it becomes a "more political" organization.

Brussels, 3 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today tried to make good on his promise to "radically transform" Russia's relationship with the European Union and NATO.

Although today's EU-Russia summit centered on the fight against international terrorism, its most important long-term effect could be the decision to create what EU leaders term "structured consultations" between Russia and the EU.

The EU's Political and Security Committee -- which coordinates the EU's fledgling security and defense policies -- will hold monthly meetings with Russian officials in the future. If necessary, additional, more frequent meetings will also be organized.

The EU's chief foreign and security policy coordinator, Javier Solana, says this is an "important step" in improving practical consultations on security issues between the EU and Russia.

"We [will] really make an effort to have a monthly -- at least a monthly -- exchange of views. And whenever necessary, [when] the occasion [demands] more frequent meetings, then we're prepared to have those meetings. We want to have a fluent, rapid, and efficient channel of communication between the European Union and the Russian Federation."

Putin looked further ahead, saying Europe needs a new "security architecture" in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States.

Putin says it is obvious in the aftermath of the attacks that existing regional security structures are not adequate and need to be reviewed -- adding that "no one can any longer say they are safe." He promised that Russia will work with the EU "thoroughly and responsibly" to resolve the crisis involving international terrorism.

Putin made it clear that Russia regards the development of regular consultations between EU and Russian security bodies as only a first step toward establishing what he called "a common security space" with the EU.

Putin said that while today's decision is an "important move forward," both sides need to move beyond the "mere exchange of opinions to concrete measures and initiatives."

"Today's agreements on monthly consultations are, in our opinion, a step in the right direction. We trust that a permanent institution will be created to discuss matters relating to European security."

Putin also indicated that Russia may be ready to alter its attitude toward NATO. He said that NATO's apparent shift toward becoming more of a political organization could allow for the possibility of Russia making what he called a "significantly more valuable" contribution to the organization. However, Putin added, such a contribution would only be "in terms of political cooperation."

Putin said such a development could also remove Russia's objections to NATO enlargement -- again, provided that Russia is not sidelined by the military alliance:

"Regarding NATO expansion, one can take another and entirely new look at this, if ideas being put forward in Europe are put into practice -- ideas to transform NATO -- if NATO takes on a different hue, and is becoming a political organization. Of course, we would reconsider our position with regard to such expansion if we were to feel involved in such a process."

EU and Russian leaders signed a special joint declaration on fighting international terrorism, which Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt -- representing the current EU presidency -- said includes most recommendations made by EU leaders at their extraordinary summit 10 days ago.

Putin used the occasion to tell EU leaders that for Russia, there exists an "obvious link" between the 11 September attacks against the United States and the apartment bombings in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia in 1999, in which hundreds of people were killed. He said Russia has what he called "objective proof" that the 1999 bombings were the work of Islamic extremists from Chechnya:

"It is obvious to us that the connection to those who are using weapons to solve some problems in the North Caucasus and Chechnya, and their connection especially to international terrorists, is obvious and the signature is the same."

Putin said that while Moscow will not negotiate with fundamentalist terrorists, it would be ready to talk to genuine separatists -- who he said represent "the wrong values" -- as long as they cut their ties to terrorists.

In a remarkable admission, Putin said he acknowledges EU concerns on "possible human rights violations" in Chechnya and said Moscow is ready not only to listen but to cooperate and "work together" to resolve the issue.

The summit also discussed issues related to EU enlargement, including the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and the future of EU-Russian cooperation on economic and energy-supply issues. Putin warned such cooperation could be affected if the EU's planned enlargement either limits or otherwise damages the ties Russia currently enjoys with candidate countries.