Medvedev Agrees With EU on Framework Pact

KHANTY-MANSIISK — Russia and the EU on Friday launched long-delayed talks on a new partnership pact, welcoming a new chapter in their often rocky relations.

The mood at the event stood in striking contrast with last year’s Russia-EU summit, which was hosted by then-President Vladimir Putin near Samara and was suffused with acrimony and mutual accusations.

Starved for a more cooperative Russia and seemingly appreciative of what they billed as constructive dialogue with President Dmitry Medvedev, the EU chiefs appear to have agreed to develop the new partnership agreement on Moscow’s terms.

Russia wanted a framework agreement to be followed by a series of additional, more detailed agreements, while the EU has said it would prefer a detailed pact spelling out terms of cooperation in the energy sector, among other things.

"The first summit with Medvedev was indeed a very good and constructive one," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters after three hours of talks.

"I really enjoyed this first contact I had with you," he told Medvedev later at the news conference.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who was notably absent from last year’s summit, said: "Today has been a good day."

Launched in 1997, the current partnership agreement has been described as outdated. But negotiations on developing a new agreement had been delayed for 18 moths because of vetoes by Poland and Lithuania. The current agreement will be in force until a new one is adopted, and both Russian and EU officials say that could take months, if not years.

But after three hours of talks Friday, Medvedev exuded calm and confidence, praising the start of the talks but adding that there would be many stumbling blocks ahead.

Medvedev began the news conference by stressing that the new partnership treaty will be a "rather short" framework agreement, followed by a series of "sectoral" documents.

The announcement indicated that the EU, which has wanted a comprehensive treaty, had agreed to a compromise. EU officials sought to put a positive spin on acquiescence, saying Moscow and Brussels were on the same page.

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said he did not see a difference between the comprehensive agreement the EU had wanted and the "serious" framework agreement that Medvedev had proposed.

Marco Franco, head of the European Commission's delegation to Russia, said talks on the additional, more detailed agreements could begin simultaneously with those on the main pact. The first round of talks are to kick off July 4 in Brussels.

Taking a cue from Putin's rhetoric, Medvedev criticized, among other things, what he described as attempts to rewrite history and glorify fascism. But he lacked the prickly tone and sharp delivery typical of his mentor, who now serves as prime minister.

Putin stayed away from this year's gathering, leaving less fodder for speculation that he — and not his protege — is calling the shots in the country. Then-Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov attended last year's summit in Volzhsky Utyos, near Samara.

Medvedev said he and the EU officials discussed the possibility of a future summit that could produce a new European security pact — a proposal Medvedev first made in Berlin this month.

Existing security blocs — such as NATO, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Collective Security Treaty Organization — are imperfect because they do not account for the interests of all European countries, Medvedev said.

Calling Europe "our common home," Medvedev said it is unacceptable that a single country is responsible for that home's security — an apparent reference to the United States.

Medvedev indicated that the EU leaders supported the idea of the security pact, adding that countries like the United States and Canada would also be welcome to participate in the summit.

"I have more optimism after today’s conversation than before it," Medvedev said.

Addressing foreign reporters by telephone after Friday's talks, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the proposed security summit should not be seen as a tool to weaken NATO but as an opportunity to mend security ties with the West.

"We want NATO to be part of the solution, not part of the problem," Lavrov said.

"We are not going to ignore NATO," Lavrov continued. "We are not interested in weakening NATO. This is something which would be absolutely counterproductive in quite a number of the areas where we have common interests with NATO — like Afghanistan. And we wish NATO every success in Afghanistan."

Medvedev also said Russia would press on with its energy projects in Europe, describing plans to build the North Stream natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany as "a unifying, apolitical, commercially feasible project."

Prodded by a reporter to compare the atmosphere at this summit with last year's, the EU officials declined direct comparisons between Putin and Medvedev.

Medvedev said drawing any "divisive lines" was unnecessary. "I would depersonify this," he said. "The most important thing is what we do."

But earlier Friday, EU officials spoke warmly of Medvedev at a briefing with reporters.

"He seems to me to be a very open person who really wants to engage, he has a very open personality," Barroso told Reuters.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said her first impressions were also positive.

"We are now in a phase of retuning our relationship because there are new personalities," she said, Reuters reported. " … We do see this — I think sincere — wish to work together in a much closer way. We will have to see if this wish is translated into action."

After Friday's news conference, Medvedev was to meet with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, a Kremlin official said.

Staff writer Nikolaus von Twickel contributed to this report from Moscow.