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Russia/EU: Conference Ahead Of Summit Looks At Ties That Bind, Issues That Divide

The ninth EU-Russia summit is being held today in Moscow, with President Vladimir Putin -- fresh from last week's summit with U.S. President George W. Bush and yesterday's Rome meeting christening the NATO-Russia Council -- meeting top European politicians. In addition to monitoring progress made since last autumn's summit in Brussels, today's meeting aims to give new impetus to the development of EU-Russia dialogue. Yesterday, ahead the summit, Russian and European officials discussed relations and future cooperation.

Moscow, 29 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The ninth EU-Russia summit is under way in Moscow. The event, which comes on the heels of Russia's summit-level meetings with the U.S. and NATO, has been promoted by EU officials as a chance for the Union to do its part to help Russia fully integrate with the West.

Speaking at a presummit conference yesterday, Christopher Patten, the EU's external relations commissioner, praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for adopting a pro-Western policy: "These are heady days for Russia's relations with the West. The arms reduction agreement with the United States and the decisions on a new relationship with NATO have set the seal on Russia's emerging role as a participant in our collective security. The war on terrorism has undoubtedly acted as a catalyst. President Putin's courageously positive response to the events of 11 September was hugely significant. There can be no doubt about his determination finally to lay the ghosts of the Cold War to rest."

European officials likewise praised Russia's economic reforms, saying they will bring Russia closer to the EU. At the same time, however, they urged further progress on reforms in the country's financial and legal sectors on both federal and local levels.

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said the union supports Russia's ambitions of joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), adding such a step would encourage Russia-EU trade. He said Russia's trade with the EU, already high, will increase to 50 percent after the union's scheduled expansion in 2004. He also said the expansion -- which will bring formerly Soviet Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the EU fold -- will bring the Union and Russia even closer together. He urged Russia to adapt to European trade standards.

"When we have enlarged to a community that lists 25 nations, many of our neighbors will share the same rules and the standards as those currently applied within the European Union and it might well be the interest of the Russian exporters to adopt -- I mean voluntarily -- the rules that are compatible with the European Union's acquis [communautaire -- the body of European community laws the candidates must enact before membership.] If Russian exporters want to sell microwaves in Poland or Portugal, as well as the reverse, it obviously helps if Russia is applying the same technical and product safety standards."

Russia's minister of trade and economic development, German Gref, said the WTO cannot be regarded as an international organization of "full value" without Russia: "[Russia] remains the last large country that is not part of the World Trade Organization. As everybody knows, during the past few years, the Russian government has been taking serious steps to change this situation and to obtain a market-economy status for Russia."

Aleksander Livshits, deputy managing director of the Russian Aluminum company, said that for Russian businesses it is essential for the EU to grant Russia status as a market economy. Livshits said that without such status, it will be risky for Russia to join the WTO: "For Russian businesses, the [market] status is not a symbol, it is not a political sign or a kind of signal or demonstration of goodwill. It means the development of our production, of our export, economic growth and, if you will, the same reforms that the European Union is rightly pushing us to continue. Then it is also related to the very important problem of the accession of our country to the WTO. In my opinion, without [market] status with our main partners -- first and foremost the EU -- it would be very risky to join the WTO, because the balance between the pluses and minuses will be distorted."

Livshits said that when Russian businessmen discussed the problems concerning the market status with the Europeans, it was suggested that Russians follow the example of China, which joined the WTO without market status. But Livshits said Russia and China are too different to follow similar models. Moreover, he said, the EU will account for some 50 percent of Russian exports after expansion, while it accounts for only 16 percent of Chinese exports. Russian businesses, he said, have to defend themselves from antidumping measures.

Livshits also said the topics of energy prices and Russia's economic status are not interrelated, and that energy prices in Russia will always be lower than those in the EU, because Russia is rich in natural resources and can afford to keep its internal prices lower.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a Russian lawmaker participating in the conference, says that Russia has never been so oriented toward the European Union as it is now under President Putin. But Ryzhkov said the cooperation between the European Union and Russia is not working as well as some officials would like: "You can notice -- and it was partly manifested in our conference -- that the rhetoric [about EU-Russia cooperation] is full of optimism, but the reality is fogged. If we listen to the rhetoric coming from both sides of [EU-Russia] cooperative efforts, we are taking big steps toward integration, but if we look at reality, there are more disappointments than steps forward."

According to Ryzhkov, Russia and the European Union do not have a common strategy. Instead, he said, there are two strategies: "that of the European Union concerning Russia and Russia's response to the European Union."