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EU-Russia Summit Yields Little Consensus On Energy, Trade, Human Rights

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) had unusually sharp words for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (left). European Council President Herman Van Rompuy is on the right.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and European Union leaders have met for a summit in Brussels but failed to resolve their differences on a range of energy, trade, and human rights issues.

Despite assurances from both sides that the talks had been "constructive," Putin strongly criticized EU regulations that Brussels says are intended to boost competition on energy markets but that Russia sees as discriminatory against its state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom.

The European Commission has further angered Moscow by launching an investigation into alleged price-fixing by Gazprom. The probe could potentially result in billions of euros in fines and renegotiations of contracts.

During their joint news conference following the summit, Putin had unusually sharp words for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

"My friend of many years, Mr. Barroso, gave such an emotional and long explanation of his position because he knows that he is wrong and he feels guilty," Putin said.

Visa Deal On Hold

Putin also criticized EU leaders for dragging their feet on a deal to introduce visa-free travel for Russians in the European Union, saying the visa-facilitation agreement depended solely on Europe's "political will."

Barroso said the European Union remained committed to visa-free travel with Russia but said a detailed agreement still needed to be fine-tuned.

"Our goal is a visa-free regime with the Russian Federation and I have stated it today during the meeting and publicly. We remain committed to that goal, but we are not yet there," Barroso said.

Moscow has insisted that a new provision be included in the agreement that would allow holders of all government-service passports, such as diplomats, visa-free travel to Europe.

This faces some resistance in Brussels, which had hoped to primarily promote easier travel for ordinary Russians to the European Union.

Chiding Russia On Rights, Trade, Syria

European leaders, in turn, used the summit to voice concerns over what many see as a backsliding on democracy in Russia.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy stressed the importance of civil society in Russia and expressed concerns over rights abuses against government critics.

During their talks with Putin, EU leaders were expected 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 this year.

The meeting also ended without a breakthrough on the Syrian conflict.

Van Rompuy said both sides agreed on efforts to find a political solution to the conflict and on "the urgency to stop the fighting" in Syria.

Putin said Russia did not defend President Bashar al-Assad's regime and wanted to see a democratically elected government in the strife-torn country.

But he signaled no intention to change Russia's stance against international sanctions against its old ally.

Moscow has angered Western states by vetoing three UN Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the violent repression of a rebellion against his rule.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS
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