Da The Moscow Times del 05/10/2005
Originale su http://www.moscowtimes.ru/stories/2005/10/05/001.html

Putin Strikes Visa Deal at EU Summit

di Beth Gardner

LONDON — President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday hailed an agreement on visas as a step toward free travel between Russia and the European Union and pledged to be Europe's reliable partner as an oil supplier.

Reporting a breakthrough on a long-standing issue, leaders at an EU-Russia summit in central London said Russia had agreed to readmit people who illegally migrated to the EU. In turn, the EU promised to make visa applications to 11 of the 25 EU nations easier for Russian diplomats, students and businesspeople, Britain's Foreign Office said.

"We believe that these arrangements are a stage that would help us approach a visa-free regime," Putin said at a news conference following the summit with Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency.

Russia's demand that the EU ease visa restrictions had been a point of contention between the two sides, and the leaders said the deal marked an important step forward.

The EU had insisted it would ease its slow, expensive visa application process for Russians only if Moscow took back illegal immigrants from the bloc plus those from its neighbors who reach Western Europe by crossing through Russia's porous borders.

Putin agreed to do so and defended the decision to back down from his strongly held position.

"We were looking for compromise," he said. Blair's office said the Russian concession was key to Britain and other European nations that have been struggling to stem illegal immigration.

Energy was an important focus of the summit. Oil accounts for much of energy-hungry Europe's imports from Russia, which is eager for Western investment.

At the news conference, Putin said Russian oil met a third of European demand. "Russia has constantly been augmenting her supply of oil, helping the world economy, including Europe, by constraining prices," he said. "Without the contribution of Russia to the energy effort, prices would have been much higher."

"Russia is a reliable partner and never … failed her partners in Europe," he said.

The leaders said they had also discussed trade between Russia and the EU and boosting cooperation against terrorism and organized crime, including drug and people trafficking.

"It was a very good, pragmatic, results-oriented summit," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

The leaders said they focused on fleshing out the framework for cooperation on trade, security, external affairs and culture that they laid out at the last EU-Russia summit, which took place in Moscow in May.

"We want to work to take the relationship between Europe and Russia to a new and more intense and strengthened level," Blair said. "This is a relationship in economic terms that can only grow and prosper and strengthen."

Blair said the two sides had incentives to cooperate because "our economic future is now bound up together."

Barroso said the leaders discussed human rights and the situation in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Amnesty International last week urged EU leaders to take a tough line with Putin on human rights, alleging that Russian forces in Chechnya were responsible for "gross human rights violations," including torture and forced confessions.

Blair said they had discussed Chechnya, but gave no specifics.

The leaders said they had also discussed Iran, the Middle East and the countries surrounding Russia.

Moscow, nervous about the EU's economic and political outreach, is wary that Europe is gaining sway in areas Russia sees as its own sphere of influence, including Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Uzbekistan.

Blair and Putin were to dine together at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's official residence, and planned to meet again Wednesday for British-Russian talks. Putin is sure to raise Russia's objections to Britain's granting of asylum to Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev, and tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who fled Russia to avoid an investigation.

Putin will also present awards on Wednesday to British sailors who helped with the rescue in August of a Russian mini-submarine, the British Foreign Office said.

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