Putin draws closer to EU and NATO

The improvement in EU-Russia relations that has occurred since the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September continued yesterday during President Putin’s visit to Brussels. His support for the international campaign against terrorism brought him further dividends as the EU promised to work to speed up Russia’s entry to the WTO. Mr Putin also appeared to soften his stance on NATO enlargement to the Baltic States at the same time as agreeing to co-operate more closely with the EU on security issues.

Notably absent from the EU-Russia summit was the usual EU criticism of Russia’s actions in Chechnya. Mr Putin has been keen to emphasise that there is a link between international terrorism and the Chechen rebels.

The US and the Europeans need Mr Putin’s support both to help maintain the international coalition against terrorism, and for practical reasons related to Russia’s experience in Afghanistan and influence in the former Soviet central Asian republics.

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy indicated that both the EU and the US will present Russia with outlines of what it needs to do to speed up its entry to the WTO.

On security issues, officials said that the EU and Russia would work closely together to combat the financing of terrorism as well as improve intelligence exchanges on terrorist-related issues that include the movement of chemical, biological and nuclear materials.

The apparent softening of Russia’s stance on NATO expansion to the Baltic states was given a cautious welcome. Russia has until now been staunchly opposed to any further expansion of NATO, but Mr Putin’s remarks at the summit suggest that he wants to adopt a more conciliatory approach.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair will travel to Moscow today for an impromptu meeting with President Putin. On the agenda are closer Russian co-operation with NATO and how to maintain the US-led coalition against terrorism.


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