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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Overflight Fees Canceled but Meat Ban Stays

APJavier Solana, right, gesturing as Vladimir Putin, Jose Manuel Barroso and Matti Vanhanen look on during a EU-Russia summit in Helsinki on Friday.
At a tense summit with the European Union in Helsinki, Russia on Friday agreed to cancel the fees that EU airlines pay for flying over Siberia, but refused to drop its ban on Polish meat.

The overflight deal was one of the few bright spots during the one-day summit, which was partly overshadowed by former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko's death in London.

On energy, President Vladimir Putin rejected a request for Gazprom to be split up into separate production and distribution companies, an anti-monopoly measure that the EU will call for in a policy document in January.

Under the overflight deal, Russia will start reducing the fees in 2010 and will completely phase them out by the end of 2013, the EU said in a statement.

New flights in the transition period -- expected to start by May next year when EU member states and Russia amend their bilateral air services agreements -- will be free of the payments, the statement said.

"This is a big success; the agreement will significantly improve the competitive situation of our European airlines," European Commission Vice President Jacques Barrot said in the statement.

Barrot signed the agreement with Transportation Minister Igor Levitin.

"This issue has been a trade irritant for the EU and Russia for a long time," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said in the statement.

In 2002, the European Commission decided to link the issue of overflight fees with the negotiations on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization. It wanted Russia to drop the fees earlier than the end of 2013.

Flights over Siberia are the best routes between Europe and destinations in China, Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, the EU said in the statement.

But the fees will cost EU airlines $331 million in 2006, as much as last year, the statement said.

The fees have increased from $250 million in 2003-2004.

The Soviet Union introduced the fees in 1986 to compensate for air traffic that Aeroflot lost to foreign airlines. Aeroflot requires the payments in its mandatory commercial arrangements with EU carriers.

Speaking about Polish meat, Putin stressed its high quality. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso lightheartedly suggested having Polish steak at the next summit.

"We shouldn't over-dramatize this because everyone agrees that Polish meat is good," Barroso said at a news conference, according to a transcript posted on the Kremlin web site. "Maybe at the next summit, we will be served a good Polish steak for lunch."

The reason why Russia -- and Ukraine -- banned meat imports from Poland last November, Putin said, is that the imports included meat that came to Poland from Asia.

Angered by the ban, which it called political, Poland vetoed EU discussions on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia. The broad agreement sets out dealings between the EU and Russia on everything from energy supplies and commercial trade to visa regimes and human rights.

"We are ready together with our Polish colleagues and friends ... to find a solution for this problem," Putin said at the news conference. "But they shouldn't link this entirely technical issue with the overall status of Russian-EU relations. Such economic selfishness does not help. And it will not help."

Barroso said the ban was a disproportionate response and asked Russia to reconsider it, saying the European Commission would be willing to act as a mediator.

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said: "After our discussion, we now understand that the issue is absolutely technical, not political." A transcript of the news conference posted on the Kremlin web site.

The current EU-Russia agreement's 10-year mandate runs out next year, but it will stay in effect until the new one comes into force, Barroso said.

During the news conference, Putin also faced questions about the poisoning of Litvinenko in London and last month's slaying of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow.

Putin expressed his condolences to Litvinenko's family and said the letter in which Litvinenko accused Putin of responsibility for his death was a provocation.

In remarks about Politkovskaya, Putin likened her killing to mafia murders in Europe. "It is our common problem, and if we look at what happens in some European Union countries with mafias that ... constantly eliminate law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors, investigators, journalists and political leaders, [we will see that] it takes decades to catch these Mafiosi in European countries," he said.

On the issue of splitting Gazprom into production and distribution companies, the EU is planning to present a new energy policy in January that would call for such a separation, Barroso said. But Putin said Gazprom would remain one company as long as domestic gas prices differed from world prices.