Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Acrimony Clouds Treaty With EU

APPutin and Barroso unveiling the agreement in the Kremlin on Tuesday.
The European Union and Russia shook hands on a new partnership agreement Tuesday, even as the two sides struck unusually acrimonious tones.

Coming a day after President Vladimir Putin hosted world leaders at a Victory Day extravaganza on Red Square, the meeting was intended to highlight agreement in four areas: economy, security, justice and cultural affairs.

But bitter feelings over the Soviet Union's post-World War II domination of Eastern Europe, combined with frustration over foot-dragging in trade relations, framed the summit, attended by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

The nonbinding accord "shows that with sufficient political will, Russia and Europe can find mutually acceptable solutions," Putin told a televised news conference. At the same time, he lashed out at new EU member Latvia, which still has not signed a border treaty border with Moscow since achieving independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"We are ready to sign an agreement on borders. ... We hope they will not be accompanied by idiotic -- in terms of their content -- demands of a territorial nature," Putin said.

He added that it was time to put historic grievances to rest.

The president's outburst came after the leaders of Estonia and Lithuania boycotted the Victory Day celebrations in Moscow, and the European Commission itself pointed out that the defeat of Nazi Germany did not spell the end of suffering for much of Eastern Europe.

"We remember as well the many millions ... for whom true freedom was only to come with the fall of the Berlin Wall," the commission said in a declaration on Friday.

Conflicting views of history clouded an agreement that -- though largely symbolic in nature -- was to set the course for future negotiations.

The two sides pledged to harmonize regulations on the environment, safety and health, and to strengthen multilateral organizations like the United Nations.

But Moscow failed to achieve its key goal: an agreement on visa-free travel for Russian citizens to the EU.

Brussels has demanded that Moscow agree to take back all illegal migrants who entered Europe via Russian territory. Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov told Interfax last week that "Russia is not eager to turn its territory into a transit camp."

Putin, speaking at a reception with Barroso on Tuesday evening, said that the talks leading up to the agreement "got to the point where we were offending each other -- but it was, you know, a real fight."

The accord is important from a symbolic point of view, said Katinka Barysch, chief economist at the Center for European Reform, a think tank in London.

"Of course, this is a non-legally binding cooperation agreement that just puts existing issues under new headings. Yet for over a year, they could not agree on signing it, which gives an indication that the relations are not particularly good at the moment."

At a summit a year ago, Brussels agreed to endorse Russia's candidacy to the World Trade Organization, in an apparent trade-off for Moscow's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

But in a briefing on Monday, Mandelson told journalists that while Russia could still squeeze into the WTO "in the early part of 2006," its ministries needed to be singing from the same hymn book.

The country has so far been unable to reach an agreement with Washington, which is insisting that Russia open up financial markets and enforce intellectual property rights.

"Russia needs to take advantage of the window between now and the summer to get the accession tied down," Mandelson said.

The EU is Russia's largest trading partner, buying more than half the country's exports, mostly as oil and gas. Bilateral trade reached $125 billion last year.

Staff Writer Anna Smolchenko contributed to this report.