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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU's Patten Raises Chechnya and Georgia With Russia

European Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten said Thursday Russia's treatment of civilians in Chechnya and tensions with Georgia were among his concerns in relations with Moscow.

Patten, on a two-day visit to Russia, also said during a speech at a diplomatic academy that the EU wanted Russia as a close and trusted partner.

"I do not want to dwell on Chechnya today. Enough has already been said. It is indeed sad that so much has had to be said," he told the audience of diplomats and officials.

"But there are few things which concern me more deeply than the way in which non-combatants are treated there and, to be fair, in other conflicts on our continent," he added.

He said Russia had to create conditions for aid workers to operate in the region, where it has battled separatist rebels, and for tens of thousands of refugees to survive the winter.

Rights groups alleged indiscriminate bombing and massacres of civilians by Russia during the campaign, launched in 1999 and which continues with small-scale but almost daily clashes. Russia denied the allegations but appointed a special official, Vladimir Kalamanov, to investigate.

"I very much hope that the work of Mr Kalamanov's office on human rights violations will be vigorously pursued. I have no doubt that this is in Russia's own interest," Patten said.



ENVIRONMENT ON THE AGENDA

He also touched on Russia's spat with neighbouring Georgia, which has involved the imposition of a visa regime and arguments over gas supplies.

"Disputes like the one with Georgia need to be resolved by negotiation," he said.

Patten said nuclear safety, crime prevention and fostering already strong trade links are also important EU-Russia issues.

"The EU and Russia are after all the two big players on our continent and we want to work together on the major issues affecting Europe, ranging from reconstruction in the Balkans to developing new concepts of security cooperation," he said.

Patten said the EU worried about cleaning up Russia's Kola peninsula, a vast mass of mostly barren land jutting into the Barents and White Seas and bordering Norway. "In the seas and on the shores surrounding the Kola peninsula, there are some 300 nuclear reactors, about 20 percent of the world's total, and thousands of spent nuclear fuel elements," he said.

"The lack of adequate storage or disposal facilities for spent fuel and radioactive waste from the reactors of nuclear vessels is a sword of Damocles hanging over all our futures."

And he said Russia's Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania and cut off from Russia by Belarus, had a particular relevance as it would become the only part of Russia within the EU once the bloc was enlarged.

The Commission recently tabled a discussion paper on Kaliningrad, a military port once closed to foreigners.

"This paper aims to present analyses and ideas for discussion with Russia and with Poland and Lithuania so that we can ensure that Kaliningrad can benefit from the huge economic expansion which we expect enlargement to generate," Patten said.

Sweden, which has assumed the rotating presidency of the EU, has made environmental issues, including a cleanup of Kaliningrad, a top priority.