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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Scolds a Bristling Putin

ReutersPutin and Merkel enjoying the sunny weather during Friday's Russia-EU summit at a Volga River resort near Samara.
VOLZHSKY UTYOS, Samara Region -- Top EU officials accused a visibly annoyed President Vladimir Putin on Friday of meddling in other countries' affairs, turning a blind eye to the killings of Kremlin opponents, and muffling voices of criticism.

No major deals were reached during the one-day Russia-EU summit at this Volga River resort, as expected. While the two sides spoke of a willingness to cooperate, they disagreed over almost everything, including the freedom of assembly, Polish meat and the removal of a Soviet monument in Estonia.

At a 1 p.m. news conference after two hours of talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue of the detention of opposition activists who had been granted permission -- under EU pressure -- to hold a Dissenters' March in nearby Samara on the same day as the summit. Among those detained was former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who was not allowed to board a plane from Moscow.

"I am concerned about the treatment of some people who had problems traveling here," Merkel said in remarks translated into Russian. "I hope they will be given an opportunity to express their opinion."

A combative Putin said he was not afraid of "marginal groups" that disrupted everyday life. He noted that Germany had cracked down on protesters ahead of a Group of Eight summit that will be held next month in Heiligendamm, Germany.

Merkel said that detaining people who threw stones and acted violently was different from stopping people on their way to protests.

Putin replied that the European Union was concerned about the rights of demonstrators in Russia but was ignoring the rights of Russian speakers in Estonia. "For some reason you don't recall that a protester was killed in Tallinn," he said.

Dmitry Ganin, 20, died after being stabbed during rioting in Tallinn over Estonia's decision to relocate a Soviet-era memorial several weeks ago. Two Russian speakers have been detained in connection with the death.

"We are not calling into question the development of strategic relations with the EU" because of the death, Putin said. And the EU, he added, has not called into question its ties with countries like the United States because of possible human rights violations. "So let us not rub it in," Putin said testily.

In front of a Tolyatti hotel where foreign reporters for the summit stayed, young people from a regional group called New People waved flags and distributed leaflets condemning the "inert forces in Europe" that portray Russia as an enemy.

"Why do European peoples have to provide a stage for Americans to flex their muscles?" the leaflet, written in Russian and poor English, said in reference to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

At the news conference, which lasted an hour, Putin sidestepped a German reporter's question about whether he considered himself a "pure democrat."

"What does pure mean?" Putin said. "What does it mean to be a pure German, a pure Russian in modern times? We have a saying: scratch a Russian and you'll find a Tatar." He said there was no such thing as pure democracy.

EU officials took pains to defend the bloc's new members such as Poland and Estonia, reiterating that a dispute over Polish meat exports to Russia was the bloc's common problem. "The EU is based on principles of solidarity," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

An agreement is needed on the issue before Russia and the EU can sign a new framework partnership agreement that outlines relations in all areas.

In remarks published after the summit, Barroso reiterated a warning to Russia not to drive a wedge between the EU nations. "One can get the impression that Russia views certain EU members, like Poland or the Baltic states, differently from other member states," he said in an interview in Germany's Focus magazine Saturday.

Barroso told reporters at the summit that the deaths of Kremlin critics, including the murder of Novaya Gazeta reporter Anna Politkovskaya last year, was "a matter of concern."

"I don't understand why a country with that kind of security apparatus can't solve the murder of journalists," he told Focus.

During the summit news conference, Barroso was asked by Kommersant reporter Andrei Kolesnikov how he could tolerate a resurgence in fascist sentiments across Europe, especially in Portugal, Barroso's homeland and a country that suffered under the decades-long dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. "No country in Europe is in favor of fascism or national socialism," Barroso said.

In a nod to the relocation of the Tallinn monument, he said Europe had "great respect for the great sacrifice" Russians had made during World War II.

Barroso defended Estonia's right to relocate monuments on its territory but urged caution. "Be careful," he said in remarks aimed in equal measure to Moscow and Tallinn.

Putin said it was "absolutely false" to suggest that the summit had been useless because it had not delivered any major agreements. He said the sides had agreed on all issues except those that "lie in the sphere of economic selfishness."

He suggested that Poland was at fault in the meat dispute, saying Russia wanted a solution but Polish officials had not held any talks for more than a year.

On the bright side, Putin said, the EU and Russia agreed Friday to bolster cross-border cooperation and to set up electronic systems to track trade.

Despite the bickering, the leaders were keen to end their news conference on a friendly note.

"Precisely because we have differences, we have an interest in developing our dialog," said Barroso, reiterating that the EU supported Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told reporters after the news conference, however, that the EU still wanted to link Russia's WTO bid to Polish meat.

Softening his tone, Putin said Europe had done a lot to help Russia to recover after the Soviet collapse and that Russians should never forget that. He said he remembered aid shipments arriving from Europe when he worked in the St. Petersburg administration.

"We need each other. We are cooperating with each other, and we will cooperate in the future," he said.

After the news conference, the leaders continued their talks over a lunch behind closed doors.

Russia spent 4 billion rubles ($155 million) to organize the summit, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit. Federal authorities provided 3 billion rubles, while the region covered the rest, he said. He echoed many Russian officials in praising the summit as a success. "The mere fact that they gathered together and had a talk is already a political result," he said.

Merkel agreed, telling reporters: "During the summit we found that a lot of problems have accumulated, but it's always better to talk with each other than about each other."