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4 Jul, 2008 15:06

Russia & EU kick off partnership agreement talks

The first round of talks between Russia and the EU on their new strategic partnership agreement has started in Brussels on Friday. Energy, trade and missile defence were all on the table as the two sides began work towards a new bilateral agreement.

“We focused on the scope of the agreement, its structure as well as on the organisation of the negotiating position itself and it was positive and constructive,” said Vladimir Chizhov, Russian ambassador to the EU following the talks.

It’s been a difficult road to get this far. The two sides are working on a replacement to the old Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA), which governed relations between them from 1997 to 2007.

It expired last year but talks on a new deal stalled after Poland and Lithuania vetoed new negotiations over what they described as unfair treatment from Russia.

Poland had been subjected to a Russian ban on meat imports while Lithuania’s oil supplies were disrupted in the summer of 2006, when Russia cut deliveries to one of the country’s refineries. Both have since withdrawn their complaints allowing Russia and the EU to come together and try to thrash out a deal.

It began in the Siberian province of Khanty-Mansiysk last week when the two sides got their first taste of Russian diplomacy under President Medvedev. The Russian leader announced he was looking forward to an era of cooperation.

The success of that meeting set up the Brussels talks and a host of topics were on the table: politics and external security, justice and liberty, commercial problems, investment and energy, education, culture, specialist study as well as research and development.

With such a wide range of issues to discuss there is still a long way to go before the two sides reach any formal agreement.

Energy is a critical issue. The EU wants Russia to open its huge energy resources to European investment while Russia wants more opportunities for its companies to put money into European reserves.

Some EU members have called for any deal to be conditional on Russia improving its human rights record and its relations with its neighbours. Russia has responded by saying it has already carried out radical reforms.

But after Friday’s talks both parties seemed confident a significant first step had been made.