While protestors in major Russian cities vent frustration over apparent fraud in the recent parliamentary elections, Russia's president is heading to Brussels to meet EU leaders mollified by the unfolding eurozone crisis.
Both the EU and Russia took a conciliatory tone ahead of the 14-15 December EU-Russia Summit, when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will head to Brussels to meet with EU leaders.
A spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton took an appeasing tone when asked about Russia's recent parliamentary elections, which the opposition claims were rigged.
Maja Kociancic said that the election issue would be raised over the talks, while welcoming Medvedev's announcement that inquiries would open on the fraud allegations.
Medvedev said on Sunday he has asked officials to look at reports of possible fraud during the 4 December elections, but rejected calls for a re-run of the vote.
The Commission also published a Eurostat paper showing that despite the economic crisis, the trade of EU's 27 members with Russia had grown by 27% in the first months of 2011.
Russian Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov, known to Brussels journalists for his biting humour over Europe's failures, also took a pacifying tone.
"Any participant to the summit can raise any topic," Chizhov said, adding that his president "won't be surprised" if the election is mentioned by his EU counterparts.
He also said that Russia's laws regarding demonstrations were "no different" from similar legislation in Western countries.
Asked about his praise for the 8-9 December EU summit, he said that the result was "the best possible under the circumstance".
Faith in the euro
"My country hasn't lost faith in the euro," he added.
Asked about the possibility that Russia would lend funding to the International Monetary Fund to help bailout cash-strapped EU countries, he said: "We are considering this option".
At their summit last week, EU leaders agreed to beef up the IMF with an additional €200 billion in the form of bilateral loans to help it deal with the crisis.
A EU diplomat told EURACTIV that this act was necessary before inviting other countries, such as Brazil or Russia, to contribute to the funding.
"Before asking the others, we should state clearly what sum we are putting on the table," he said.
'Flexibility' needed in energy issues
Asked about EU-Russian energy relations, Chizhov said that the EU's 'third package' of proposals to further liberalise the EU's energy market in fact provided some "flexibility" to accommodate Russia's interests. However, he added that some countries were sticking to the "strictest possible" reading.
Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said recently that the EU should consider the planned Gazprom-favoured pipeline South Stream as a continuation of the Russian pipeline network, and that it should forbid the access of third parties to it. On that occasion, EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger hinted that the European Commission was heading in this direction, ever since he cited the legitimisation of a EU-Russian gas treaty in November 2010 as "a step in the right direction".
No imperial ambition vis-à-vis Ukraine
Asked about Russia-Ukraine relations, Chizhov said that Ukraine "deserves better than being portrayed as an object of struggle between Moscow and Brussels".
"Ukraine will be best placed at having good relations both with EU and Russia," he said.
The statement, however, contrasts with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ambition to create a "Eurasian Union" made up of Russia and other post-Soviet states.
Chizhov also mentioned his country's accession to the World Trade Organisation and an agreement to lift the visa requirement for the citizens of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which is wedged between Poland and Lithuania, as "catalyst" for the developing of relations.
He said efforts to lift the visa requirement for all Russian citizens should continue, insisting that such a move was in the interest of both the EU and Russia.
No Russia citizenship to Kosovo Serbs
Asked about Kosovo, where reportedly some 20,000 ethnic Serbs have applied for Russian citizenship, he said the request could not be granted according to the Russian law. He added that Russia had "a legitimate concern" over events in Serbia's former province of Kosovo.
Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, recently pleaded in favour of Russia considering with utmost attention the request of Serbs in Kosovo who reportedly applied for Russian citizenship.
The summit comes as Russian leader Vladimir Putin faces criticism and opposition unprecedented since he took power in 1999. His United Russia party lost ground in parliamentary elections on 4 December and there are widespread accusations that even that result was enhanced by vote-rigging.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow on Saturday to demand the departure of Putin, who is currently prime minister but is hoping to become president again in March.
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