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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Premier Keen on EU Membership

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Friday that Russia was keen on joining the European Union -- two days after the EU opened the historic process of taking in states from behind the former Iron Curtain.

"In the near future, I think that Russia should be in the EU with all the implications and consequences, not all of which will be easy for us," Chernomyrdin said at a news conference.

Russian speakers at the press conference said Chernomyrdin made no reference to a time element, and the Russian mission to the EU was unable to resolve the discrepancy.

Chernomyrdin, speaking after meeting European Commission President Jacques Santer, was restating ambitions voiced by President Boris Yeltsin. He said Russia's dealings with the EU had one goal, "to become equal partners in this continent."

"Yes indeed. ... I think that our work here, our entire scope of work, all issues and problems that we are discussing, are directed to one objective, that at a certain point Russia will become a member of the EU," he said.

This week the commission recommended to EU governments that the union open membership talks with five of 10 Eastern European applicants -- Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Estonia. It said that five others, including two former members of the Soviet Union -- Latvia and Lithuania -- along with Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia were far from prepared to open entry talks.

Russia has not formally applied for EU membership, and the commission avoided broaching the prospect in its giant policy blueprint, Agenda 2000, published Wednesday to propel the bloc into the next century.

Chernomyrdin hit out Friday at "criminals" who exported British beef to Russia despite a ban imposed because of a health scare.

"It's pure crime and should be seen as such and anyone who has been involved in this is a criminal and should be treated as such -- as a criminal," he said at a news conference.

Russia said last week it had seized 730 tons of beef labeled as being Belgian but originating in Britain.

Chernomyrdin said Russia was stepping up controls around its borders.

Santer said at the news conference that he and the Russian prime minister had agreed to set up an early warning system to ensure that it did not happen again.

About 170 tons of British beef have also been seized in the German port of Hamburg destined for Russia.