Just four days are left before talks between Russian president Vladimir Putin and the EU led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Europe considered prospects Monday for improving its strained relations with Russia.
Merkel, whose country holds the EU presidency, is to see Putin Friday in the Russian city of Samara at a time of soured bilateral relations.
On Sunday, Merkel talked by phone with Putin. On Tuesday German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will pay an unscheduled visit to Moscow for talks with Putin and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.
"Both sides - the European Union as well as Russia - are interested in having the summit take place and that it will be a success," Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said in Berlin.
In Brussels, Steinmeier told reporters, "There are quite a few problems that need to be overcome."
Estonian and Polish officials have suggested it might be better not to have the Samara summit, but Steinmeier said it should go ahead because the EU and Russia needed one another, economically and politically.
"That makes me convinced both sides must work for a return to common sense," he added.
The EU and Russia are mired in a series of disputes that mirror the downturn in US-Russia relations. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to hold talks with Russian officials in Moscow.
Putin is troubled by the U.S. proposal for a missile defense system in ex-Soviet satellite countries. Russia also disagrees with international partners over the current draft of a U.N. plan to give the southern Serbian province of Kosovo internationally supervised independence. And it is also threatening to freeze its compliance with a European conventional arms treaty.
Russia's increasing control of oil and natural gas supplies is causing concern in western European capitals that are already upset by Russia's 2005 ban on meat and plant imports from Poland over what Moscow says are hygiene concerns. Last month, Poland threatened to veto the EU-Russia summit over the import ban.
That trade dispute is also blocking the EU from beginning talks on a long-delayed "strategic partnership" with Russia, which the EU sees as a tool to get Moscow to commit to fair trade in energy.
In the EU view, by opening its vast energy sector to the EU and other investors, Russia will secure a major upgrade of its oil and gas pipelines, and the EU gets access to secure and affordable energy for the future.
Today, the EU imports 50 percent of its energy needs. This is expected to rise to 70 percent over the next 20-30 years. Gas imports alone may rise by 80 percent in the period, according to EU forecasts.
But Moscow has resisted making its energy sector subject to market economy rules. Although the EU still formally backs Russia's World Trade Organization membership, the access-to-energy issue is beginning to loom over Moscow's WTO application.
Russia tightened its grip Saturday on natural gas supplies from Central Asia by striking a deal with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to build a pipeline that would pump their gas into Russia's network of pipelines to Europe.
The new gas agreements are a blow to U.S. and European efforts to construct oil and gas pipelines from Central Asia that would cross under the Caspian Sea, avoiding Russia, and connect to Europe through Azerbaijan and Turkey.
The deal means Russia will control the bulk of Central Asian energy exports, boosting its role as a major supplier of oil and gas to Europe and strengthening Western fears that Moscow could use its energy clout for political purposes.
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