EU Wants Russia Treaty Before Summit

Itar-TassKhristenko, left, and Sukhoi general director Mikhail Pogosyan inspecting a Superjet-100 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur.
European Commission Vice President GЯnter Verheugen on Saturday said he was confident that talks on a new EU-Russia treaty would begin before a key summit next month, despite opposition from Lithuania.

Verheugen was speaking after holding extended talks with Industry and Trade Minister Viktor Khristenko during a trip to a Sukhoi aircraft plant in the far eastern town of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, where state-owned United Aircraft Corporation and leading Western manufacturers are working on Russia's Superjet-100 project.

"I'm quite optimistic that the European Commission will have a mandate to negotiate the treaty before the next EU-Russia summit meeting," Verheugen said at a briefing in Moscow. The two-day EU-Russia summit is to take place in the west Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiisk, starting June 26.

Verheugen said Saturday that his talks with Khristenko had enabled him to understand the Russian position better.

"We had almost 20 hours on the plane with Mr. Khristenko to talk about a whole spectrum of issues, and I understand my colleague very well," Verheugen said.

The EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, a treaty governing a wide range of economic, trade and political ties, formally expired last December, and no new treaty has been adopted so far.

Lithuania, which became a member of the EU in 2004, said in April that it would not approve the mandate on the new EU-Russia treaty talks until crude oil supplies cut by Moscow in 2006 were resumed and the frozen conflicts in the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia resolved. Lithuania also called for compensation for its citizens deported by Moscow during the Soviet era.

"My forecast here is that we'll find a solution with Lithuania very soon. It will be in the interest of Lithuania not to be seen as a troublemaker," Verheugen said.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister and Rosneft chairman Igor Sechin dismissed Lithuania's calls for oil supplies to be restored.

"What claims or demands can they present to us?" Sechin said of Lithuania in his first interview after being appointed to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's new Cabinet. "We should we give away our resources?"

On Saturday, Verheugen also expressed some sympathy for Russia's stance on export duties on raw timber, an issue that has strained its relations with Finland and Sweden, currently the biggest consumers of Russian timber in the EU.

"The situation when some European countries import Russian timber, refine it at the border and then sell back by a significantly more expensive price is not acceptable," Verheugen said. "The importers have been treating Russia as a third-world country."

In an effort to promote the domestic timber processing industry, Russia last year hiked export duties for raw timber from 4 euros to 15 euros ($6 to $23) per cubic meter and plans to raise it further to a prohibitive 50 euros ($78) next year.

The European Commission has previously warned that the dispute over timber export duties could delay Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization.