EU Commission president visits Russia

The president of the European Union's head office meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday to discuss a partnership pact that has been stalled by differences.

During a Russia-EU summit in November, the parties failed to complete negotiations on a "strategic partnership" due to disagreements over security and other issues, but said they were confident a final agreement would be reached at their next summit set for May 10.

Thursday's discussions between European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Putin will focus on how to overcome those differences. The goal of the planned partnership is to boost ties in four areas: the economy; freedom, security and justice; external security; and research, education and culture.

During November's summit, Russia and the EU could not agree on how to craft closer cooperation on security issues, an area that touches on Russia's relations with Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and the Caucasus republics. The summit was overshadowed by stark differences over Ukraine, where street protests late last year ushered the pro-Western opposition into power.

The Kremlin has accused the United States and the EU of fomenting the protests, claims they have denied, and the angry exchange has hurt ties.

The EU wants to reach out to its eastern neighbors with economic and political assistance, while Moscow has remained wary of what it saw as the West's encroachment on what long has been its sphere of influence.

Another bone of contention was human rights: Moscow bristled at European criticism of rights abuses in Chechnya and accused the EU of double standards, saying the treatment of Russian-speaking minorities in the EU's Baltic states of Latvia and Estonia falls short of international and EU standards.

Russia and the EU also had differences related to transit to and from Kaliningrad, a Russian Baltic Sea enclave now surrounded by EU nations. The EU in turn has complained about Russia's practice of charging EU airlines when they fly over Siberia.

Associated Press

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