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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Hopeful for a Deal in Moscow

LUXEMBOURG -- The European Union expressed confidence Monday it could overcome last-minute difficulties and sign a long-delayed partnership accord with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next month.

"Our aim remains to conclude the negotiations ... at the summit May 10. We are practically, nearly there," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

The EU and Russia are pursuing broad cooperation in four areas: the economy, external security, justice matters and cultural affairs, including research and education. But agreement has been difficult to reach.

At a summit in The Hague, Netherlands, last fall, they could not agree on cooperation in external security -- an area touching Russian relations with Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and the Caucasus republics.

The summit was overshadowed by stark differences over Ukraine, where street protests have since ushered a pro-Western opposition into power.

The two sides have also disagreed on a visa deal and readmission accords forcing Moscow to take back illegal immigrants from Western Europe, whether they are Russians or not.

"I am convinced we will find solutions because now it is no longer so much about substance" but about how to phrase an accord, Ferrero-Waldner said on the margins of an EU foreign ministers meeting. She said a deal was possible at the May 10 EU-Russia summit in Moscow.

In the area of economics, Russia has agreed to phase out by 2014 charges to EU air carriers crossing Russian airspace over Siberia. EU officials were still pushing Moscow to start the phase-out soon. The EU is Moscow's largest trading partner, accounting for more than half of its trade, while Russia is a major energy supplier for Europe.

What has rankled Russia is the EU's economic and political outreach out to its eastern neighbors. It has already lost eight Eastern European nations to the EU -- they joined the bloc a year ago -- and is wary of EU meddling in former Soviet republics, which Moscow sees as its sphere of influence.

After taking in 10 newcomers last May, the EU has been at pains to sign tailor-made accords with new eastern neighbors, offering far-reaching trade and cooperation benefits but -- crucially -- no prospect of membership. Its "European Neighborhood" accords aim to make Europe more secure by bringing stability and prosperity to volatile regions.

Russia was offered a "partnership accord" because Moscow demanded a deal different from the EU "neighborhood" agreements with Ukraine and others to reflect its status as a global, nuclear power.