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Visas, Trade, Energy Expected To Dominate EU-Russia Summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) will hold talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (left) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) will hold talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (left) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels.
BRUSSELS -- European Union visas for Russians and clashes over energy and imports are expected to dominate the two-day EU-Russia summit opening late on December 20.

Ahead of the summit in Brussels, the EU has announced its readiness to make it easier for Russian citizens to obtain EU visas.

But reports say a last-minute request by Moscow to include visa-free travel for Russian diplomats could jeopardize a deal during the summit.

President Vladimir Putin and his ministers are also likely to question the EU about a recent European Commission investigation into alleged price-fixing by Russian energy giant Gazprom.

The EU, meanwhile, is likely to complain over Russia's failure to lower tariffs for EU wood, paper, and cars in line with Word Trade Organization (WTO) rules. Russia joined the WTO in August.

The summit is scheduled to include talks between Putin and his delegation and EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Visa Deal

The summit is likely to result in few concrete results.

The most likely hope for an agreement is on visa facilitation. A deal would reduce paperwork and delays for some Russian citizens, such as academics and businessmen, to travel to the EU.

The EU is reportedly ready to rubber-stamp a deal. But Moscow has insisted that a new provision be included that would allow holders of all government-service passports, such as diplomats, visa-free travel to the EU.

This faces some resistance from the EU, which had hoped to primarily promote easier travel for ordinary Russians to the EU.

Since the last EU-Russia summit in Brussels in February 2011, the European Commission has opened an investigation into alleged price-fixing by Gazprom. The probe could eventually result in billions of euros in fines and renegotiations of contracts.

Russian officials are expected to push for exemptions from an EU policy that calls for the separation of energy-production and energy-transmission firms.

Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, says Moscow is keen to secure a waiver for its South Stream pipeline. Russia argues that projects crossing several non-EU, as well as EU member states, should fall outside the legislation.

Trade, Human Rights

The EU, meanwhile, is likely to raise complaints about trade.

Many of the problems are related to trade barriers, such as a fee on cars recycled from abroad, that Russia is obligated to remove as a member of the WTO.

There have been threats to take Russia to court over high tariffs on car parts, wood and paper products, and a ban on imports of live pigs.

Chizhov argued that Russia cannot liberalize so quickly.

"The Russian economy really needs a bit of time to digest that and to adapt itself to WTO membership," Chizhov said.

"That is why Russia is not fully prepared to make another leap towards liberalizing its trade and economic links with its strategic partner, the European Union."

The EU will also voice concerns about human rights in Russia, according to Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Worries about the treatment of the imprisoned members of the Russian punk collective Pussy Riot, and recent laws that make the functioning of civil society in Russia harder, are expected to be raised.

The case of whistle-blowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky will also be raised, even though the EU has refrained from following the United States in blacklisting Russians linked to his death in pretrial detention.
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.