Russia-EU summit: longer distance, closer ties

Russia and Europe are taking a closer look at their cooperation and security at their summit beginning Thursday in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, more than 8,000 kilometers from Moscow.

The choice of Khabarovsk as the venue for the upcoming summit is not random. In 2008, President Dmitry Medvedev offered to hold summits not only in European Russia, but also in the Urals, in Siberia, and in the Far East for the Europeans “to get a closer understanding of Russia and its diversity."

The EU delegation will be led by Czech President Vaclav Klaus, the current EU president.

The development of joint approaches to the global financial and economic crisis is one of the top issues on the two-day summit agenda. Also, it is planned to work on the international legal basis of world energy cooperation, taking into account President Medvedev’s initiatives in that sphere, put forward at the G20 summit on April 20, 2009.

The summit will also discuss reforms in the architecture of Euro-Atlantic security in light of Medvedev’s offers on a new agreement in that sphere. A dialogue began at the previous summit in Nice in November 2008, and it will be continued at the summit in Khabarovsk.

The sides will also focus on the prospects for visa-free trips between Russia and the EU. Work is currently in progress to simplify visa procedures, and to expand the list of people who can travel to EU states without visas.

Another issue to be discussed is a new basic agreement between the EU and Russia. The previous agreement expired on December 1, 2007. Although that document envisions the possibility of its automatic prolongation for a year, the sides agree that it is necessary to work on a new one.

The European Union is a major trade partner for Russia. EU countries account for 52.3 per cent of Russian trade. Russia exports mainly energy resources (68.2 per cent of exports), chemical and agricultural products, and it imports machines and equipment, foodstuffs, and textiles. As the major supplier of energy resources to the EU, Russia tops the list of suppliers of natural gas and is second on the list of suppliers of oil and oil products. Gas supplies to Europe make up 67 per cent of Russia’s total gas exports.

EU-Russia summits have been held on a regular basis since 1998. The relationship between the partners has been challenged by the conflict in South Ossetia and a disruption of gas supplies through Ukraine.