Putin and EU leaders seek to work out strategic partnership
publiziert: Sonntag, 29. Okt 2000 / 08:52 Uhr

Paris - Russia and Europe are close neighbors, but not truly partners. Vladimir Putin and European leaders will be trying to improve the relationship during the Russian leader's second European Union-Russia summit since he became president.

Putin arrives Sunday in Paris for a four-day visit to France, a trip that includes the EU-Russia summit followed by talks with French leaders on bilateral issues, as well as a packed cultural agenda. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly a decade ago, a much diminished Russia has been seeking to redefine its relations with Europe, Russia's most natural economic and political partner.

"Europe and Russia are geographically inseparable," Thierry de Montbrial, director of the French Institute for International Relations, said in an interview. "Europe must have good relations with Russia." Those relations have been soured by European criticism of the way Russia is conducting its war against Chechen separatists and Russia's anger over last year's NATO bombing of Yugoslavia to break the Kosovo crisis. French President Jacques Chirac, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, will be seeking both to mend relations as well as smooth the negotiation of a major energy deal between Russia and Europe. The proposed agreement seeks to develop a "strategic partnership" between the EU and Russia to increase Russian natural gas and oil exports to Europe in exchange for substantial European investment in Russia's decrepit energy sector. Soaring oil prices and the major protests they have caused in recent months have prompted the EU to intensify efforts to reduce its dependence on OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. "Russia is a threat to us now because of its weakness and no longer because of its force," said de Montbrial, who will host a private dinner for Putin. "It's in our interest for Russia to get back on its feet."

The controversial energy deal is expected to be a major focus of Putin's talks Monday with Chirac, European Commission President Romano Prodi and Javier Solana, the EU's top foreign policy official, among others. "We want to have a prosperous, stable Russia that is developing, that is modernizing its political institutions, that is building up its democracy," French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said at a news briefing on the Putin visit. Putin has won support and sympathy from EU leaders because of the perception that Russia under his leadership has the chance to become a stable country with economic potential. And while Putin is not likely to encounter much EU irritation over Russia's sluggish acknowledgment of President Vojislav Kostunica's victory in recent Yugoslav presidential elections, the ongoing conflict in Chechnya is likely to prove an irritant. Several major international human rights organizations last week released reports on the activities of the Russian military in the breakaway province, including one by Human Rights Watch entitled "Welcome to Hell." "France is going to receive a liar and a criminal," said Patrick Baudouin, president of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues. "Putin and the Russian authorities overwhelm us with lies pretending the situation is almost idyllic on the ground while reports from the field prove the opposite." Russia has conducted two brutal wars in the past five years seeking to subdue Chechen rebels who want independence for the small mountainous region in the northern Caucasus. Vedrine, whose country was one of Russia's most vocal critics over Chechnya, said the republic's fate was not the "central subject" of the visit. A group of leading French intellectuals has planned a big protest Monday evening against Putin's visit. The Paris visit is a rare combination of business and pleasure for the dour Russian leader. He plans a boat trip on the Seine River, as well as a private guided tour of the Louvre. Before leaving Wednesday, Putin makes a private but highly symbolic visit to the Russian cemetery at Sainte-Genevieve des Bois, south of Paris, where many prominent Russians who fled their homeland after the Bolshevik takeover are buried. Putin will lay flowers on the graves of Nobel prize winning author Ivan Bunin, a fierce opponent of communism who died in total poverty in France in 1953, and Vera Obolenskaya, a young Russian woman of noble origin who fought with the French Resistance and was killed by the Nazis in 1944.


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