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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Finds an Ally in Portugal

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates warned against preaching to Russia about democracy, and President Vladimir Putin promised not to preach to the European Union about Polish meat at a summit next week.

Then Putin sternly told a Portuguese reporter that Russia was not the devil.

The two leaders spoke at a joint news conference in the Kremlin's Malachite Foyer that capped a two-day visit by Socrates, whose country takes over the revolving EU presidency in July. In sharp contrast to a recent Russian-EU summit outside Samara, the atmosphere at Tuesday's news conference was warm and friendly.

"The task is to arrive at a common strategic agreement that would unite our historic missions," Socrates said after 2 1/2 hours of talks with Putin. "With that idea, Portugal will embark on its EU presidency."

Putin, who has been trying to win over individual EU members after running into a brick wall with the EU leadership, could barely contain his glee.

"We highly appreciate the attitude of the Portuguese prime minister with an eye to strengthening relations between Russia and the EU," Putin said.

Putin failed to win over Germany, which holds the EU's presidency until July 1, in its disputes with East European countries. Socrates' visit came at the Kremlin's invitation.

Putin said he had told Socrates about Russia's concerns about U.S. plans to set up a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and about Moscow's decision to suspend its commitments to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. They also spoke about Poland's refusal to sign off on a new Russian-EU partnership agreement until Russia lifted a ban on Polish meat.

"Because of separate problems, one can't see the forest for the trees," Putin said.

Putin reiterated his position that the Polish meat was substandard, noting that Berlin had recently seized a shipment of the meat. Germany has backed Poland in its dispute with Russia. Putin said the seizure spoke louder than words and he would not preach to Merkel when he travels to Germany for a Group of Eight summit next week. "Of course I won't tell her, 'You don't want to eat this meat yourself but want to feed it to me.' I won't say that," he said.

Socrates lavished praise on Putin and warned against moralizing over common values, human rights and democracy.

When a journalist with Publico, a major Portuguese newspaper, asked whether Russia shared the bloc's common values, Socrates said Portugal and Russia shared values that stemmed from a long history together. He said protecting human rights and democracy was important, but "these values need to be developed without preaching."

Socrates added that no country was a paragon of democracy. "There's nothing worse than one country trying to lecture another country," he said.

Putin has many times accused the West of preaching to Russia about human rights and democracy, including at the Russian-EU summit when Merkel accused Putin of silencing his critics.

Putin grew agitated when it was his turn to respond to the Publico journalist's question. He said Moscow should not be likened to a "monster that has just come out of the forest and has horns and hooves instead of feet."

"Let's talk without conceit, like partners," he said.

Socrates said he also had come to Moscow to urge Russians to invest more in Portugal, and he praised Russian plans to build an ethylene plant in the Portuguese port of Sines. Portugal intends to ease visas for Russians, Socrates said.

Russia has reciprocated Portugal's goodwill by paying off its Soviet debt to the country ahead of schedule, Putin said.

During his visit, Socrates attended the opening of an exhibition of several high-tech companies from Portugal and a first Russian-Portuguese economic forum. The two countries signed several export agreements. "I am wrapping up my visit with a feeling of satisfaction," Socrates told reporters in comments translated into Russian. "During the past two days, our relations have received an amazing impulse."

The volume of bilateral trade increased by 13 percent to nearly $1.4 billion last year, the Kremlin said.

Socrates' friendly rhetoric will not help bring about a breakthrough in EU relations unless Poland decides to lift its veto and Russia improves relations with Estonia and Lithuania, political analysts said.

"Alas, nothing will come of it," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika Fund, a think tank.

Boris Makarenko, analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, said Socrates was keen to set the agenda for his upcoming EU presidency. "And the largest sticking point is Russia," he said.

The next Russian-EU summit will take place in Lisbon in October.

The Publico journalist said after the news conference that she had not heard anything new from Putin. "It's always the same," she said.