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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Arrives for Tense EU Talks

APPiebalgs, left, and Khristenko talking at an EU-Russia round table Thursday.
LISBON -- President Vladimir Putin arrived in Lisbon on Thursday to meet Portuguese leaders ahead of an EU-Russia summit on Friday that is likely to be dominated by disagreements on trade and energy.

Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina set the tone for the summit by urging the European Union to back Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Brussels has refused to sign off on the WTO bid because it feels Russia has not implemented a 2004 bilateral WTO accession deal, especially by failing to cut export duties on timber.

"The reason there have been delays in increasing the EU-Russia relationship has to do with Russia not joining the WTO," Nabiullina told an EU-Russia business conference in Lisbon, which was also attended by Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin, Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko and Unified Energy System chief executive Anatoly Chubais.

"The longer discussions to join the WTO are delayed, the bigger the losses for EU and Russian companies," Nabiullina said.

Portugal holds the rotating EU presidency, and Prime Minister Jose Socrates is expected to try to smooth over such disagreements during his meetings with Putin, with whom officials say he has friendly relationship.

"It's in the interest of both the EU and Russia to create the conditions for trade to grow," Portuguese Economy Minister Manuel Pinho told the EU-Russia business conference.

Steven Governo / AP
Chubais at Thursday's round table.
Putin landed in Lisbon in midafternoon and was due to meet Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva and Socrates later. This could be the last EU-Russia summit for Putin before he steps down in May.

A proposal by the European Commission on the energy sector, including a breakup of big utilities' grip on power supply, generation and transmission, is set to grab attention.

The plan includes a clause to prevent foreign firms from buying pipelines and power grids if their home countries do not have equally open markets and an agreement with Brussels, something seen as targeting Gazprom.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's top adviser on EU issues, said Wednesday that the plan could be "discriminatory."

European Commissioner on External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said there had to be a "a level playing field" on investments, German newspaper Handelsblatt reported Thursday.

EU officials say Moscow is reluctant to sign a broad partnership agreement with the EU because it would entail granting foreign investors and operators access to Russian oil and gas sectors.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs tried to allay Moscow's fears about the new rules, saying, "There is no discriminatory legislation" against foreign companies.

Khristenko warned that shutting out Russian interests "would bring a sharp decrease in energy security."

(Reuters, AP)