Syrian crisis may eclipse EU-Russia summit
MOSCOW/BRUSSELS WHILE energy and the economy are on the agenda at a summit between Russia and the European Union, the meeting in St Petersburg is likely to be overshadowed by the conflict in Syria.
An EU official on Friday said the bloc would push Russia to assume its “responsibilities” in helping stem the violence in Syria when the two sides meet at the weekend.
“The Russian side has certainly not been very helpful in finding solutions for a political way ahead,” the official said in Brussels, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“The way out of the current tragic situation needs to include Russia.” “This is not about pressuring Russia, this is about realizing that we have responsibilities to stop the suffering of the Syrian people and find a political way out,” he added.
“We have all seen how much influence and potential leverage Russia has in Syria.” European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso were scheduled to travel to the Baltic port of St Petersburg on Sunday for talks with President Vladimir Putin.
“The importance of this summit is primarily that, after a four-year break ..
Putin is at the head of the Russian delegation,” said parliamentarian Andrei Klimov, in comments published by the ruling United Russia party.
Putin - who visited Germany and Paris on Friday on his first trip to Western Europe since beginning his third presidential term – made clear that Russia wanted a political solution in Syria, its key ally, and opposed unilateral action.
He also hit back at suggestions that Moscow was supplying arms to Syria, saying Russia would never deliver weapons to be deployed in conflicts.
Energy relations, bilateral visa rules, Iran and Syria would be discussed at the summit, with breakthroughs unlikely on any issue, Russian media reported.
Russia’s influential Kommersant newspaper said Friday that “no important documents will be signed,” at the summit, and the meetings would largely be an exchange of views between Putin and EU leaders on a variety of issues.
“This is not a summit about individual deliverables,” another EU official said in Brussels. “This is about checking if we have the same vision, seeing where we want to go in our partnership.” Van Rompuy told Russia’s Interfax news agency Friday that the summit would be a “good opportunity to consider a wide range of issues between Russia and the EU ..
and to determine the course for the future.” The last time Putin led a Russian delegation at an EU summit was in October 2007.
His main goal for the talks would be informing the EU’s leadership of the Kremlin’s top priorities as he viewed them, a political ally said.
“Russia has several agenda points for the summit, which require a ‘situation check’,” Klimov said.
Russian media on Friday reported Putin will be looking to learn directly from Van Rompuy and Barroso the actual state of the eurozone’s less-than-healthy economy and steps Brussels was planning to take to remedy the situation.
Worrisome for Russia is the weakening value of the euro, the increasing strength of the Russian rouble - and particularly how much more the worth of the European currency would degrade were Greece to abandon the euro and default on its international debt, analysts said.
“Russia is concerned by the lack of clarity in many of these (monetary) issues, which could change the situation dramatically,” banking analyst Anton Zakharov told the Rosbalt news agency. “It is possible there will be an announcement on the eve of the conference, that will influence the value of the rouble.” The EU is by far Russia’s largest export market and earnings from Russian energy sold to the bloc are critical to Russia’s national budget. The EU in 2011 trade with Russia exported some 133 billion dollars worth of goods and imported 245 billion dollars worth of goods, a Eurostat statement said.