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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poland Key to Talks at EU Summit

ReutersA Warsaw worker rolling glue onto a campaign poster of Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who lost to Donald Tusk, as he prepares to hang a new ad.
A change in Poland's government could help to break the logjam in Russian-EU relations at a summit Friday and could remove some of the obstacles in the way of a new partnership agreement between Moscow and Brussels, officials said Tuesday.

Yet the toughest stumbling block to reaching that agreement remains the energy issue, as Russia and the European Union are deadlocked over new proposals to stop foreign companies from buying EU energy assets if they do not follow Brussels' deregulation rules.

Two deals, however, are expected at the summit, in Mafra, Portugal, on easing the entry of Russian steel products into Europe and on anti-drugs cooperation, a Russian government official said Tuesday on condition of anonymity.

Russia and the 27-nation bloc will also announce the setting-up of an "early warning system" on gas cutoffs that could help Europe avert an energy crisis, the Foreign Ministry said.

Poland's likely next prime minister, Donald Tusk, whose Civic Platform party won Sunday's parliamentary elections, said Tuesday that improving Russian-Polish ties should be a priority of his country's foreign policy.

"A change in Polish-Russian relations, I think, is the most important task of the future Polish government in foreign relations -- the most important in the sense that it's extremely difficult," Tusk said, The Associated Press reported.

Frustrated over Russia's ban on Polish meat imports, imposed nearly two years ago, Poland has blocked the start of talks on a new framework agreement between Russia and the EU on trade, energy and foreign policy. The current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement was signed in 1997 and runs until Dec. 1. The old agreement will apply until a new one is reached.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's top adviser on relations with the EU, said the change of government in Poland could mean a change for the better in Russian-Polish ties.

"These relations can become more pragmatic," he said, Interfax reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that "Moscow would like to see a reliable and friendly partner in Poland," but stopped short of welcoming the defeat of Poland's nationalist Law and Justice party. The party's leader, outgoing Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has been a vociferous critic of Kremlin policies. "Russophobia and attempts to politicize problems" were detrimental to Polish-Russian relations, Peskov said.

Tusk's party won the elections on a platform of improving relations with the EU and withdrawing Polish troops from Iraq. Tusk said his first official visits abroad as prime minister would be to Brussels, Washington and Moscow.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the twin brother of the outgoing prime minister, has not visited Moscow since coming to power in October 2005.

Jerzy Rutkowski, head of the economic section at the Polish Embassy in Moscow, said it was wrong to believe that Tusk's victory would automatically lead to better ties or prompt Russia to lift its meat ban. "But this is a chance for both sides to move closer to each other," Rutkowski said, adding that Poland and Russia were both "seeking a way out of the cul-de-sac."

Andrei Klimov, who is in charge of EU relations on the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, said he was glad that a majority in Poland had voted against "anti-Russian policies" and "discord in the EU."

"Thank God, normal people prevail in Poland, " Klimov said. But it was too early to celebrate, he said, as obstacles remained, such as Poland's veto on the start of talks over the new EU-Russia agreement and Poland's plans to host a U.S. missile defense shield.

Sergei Ryabkov, a senior Foreign Ministry official, said Russia "of course welcomed the signals coming from Poland" but added that Moscow wanted to see concrete steps.

Ryabkov, one of the organizers of the Russia-EU summit, said Russia did not want to discuss its ban on Polish meat at Friday's summit and conceded that it was very unlikely that talks on the new EU-Russia agreement would begin in Portugal.

On Tuesday, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs was in Moscow for an energy conference where he was to brief Russian officials on the EU's plan for energy deregulation. The plan -- to separate energy producers operating in Europe from companies that also own pipelines and power grids -- would be a blow to Gazprom, which has transmission interests in Germany, Britain, Poland and other EU countries. "The Russians were not jumping with joy," an EU official said after the talks on condition of anonymity, the AP reported.

In an interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta published Tuesday, Piebalgs defended the deregulation plan, saying it would apply equally to EU and non-EU companies. Piebalgs also urged Russia to ratify the Energy Charter, which would allow foreign companies' access to Russian pipelines, and said the EU was concerned about proposed Russian legislation that seeks to limit foreign investment into strategic sectors.

One bright spot at the summit will likely be the energy "early warning system," which Piebalgs and Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko have worked on for the past several months and have signed off on, Ryabkov said.

Yastrzhembsky said Tuesday that Russia-EU cooperation "was not stuck in a stalemate, and it's probably developing most effectively in the energy dialogue."