BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany’s foreign minister will make a last-minute dash to Moscow on Tuesday to try to salvage an EU summit with Russia that threatens to degenerate into acrimony over problems ranging from Polish meat to Kosovo.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, will hold talks with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a growing list of disputes involving Russia and new EU members that were once in the Soviet orbit.
However, Steinmeier acknowledged it was unlikely Russia and the EU would now agree to start negotiations on an ambitious new partnership pact due to cover trade, energy, human rights and foreign policy.
“We probably won’t get there,” he told a news conference after EU foreign ministers discussed the meeting in the southern Russian town of Samara on Friday.
“I’m not happy with the preparations for the summit so far. I would have hoped for more scope for agreement,” he added.
EU leaders had hoped the encounter would launch efforts to put relations between the EU and the country on which it relies for much of its energy on a new footing.
But those hopes have been dashed by Moscow’s refusal to lift a ban on Polish meat imports, citing cases of fraud. That move prompted Warsaw to veto the opening of talks on the pact.
Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told Reuters it would be irresponsible to set a date for ending the embargo until Russian veterinary services had done their work.
“It would not be very responsible on the part of the Russian agencies concerned to give a final timeline before all the necessary inspections are held,” he said in an interview.
Russian-EU ties are further beset by differences over Serbia’s breakaway Kosovo province, Moscow’s fury at Estonia’s removal of a Soviet monument from Tallinn city centre, its interruption of oil supplies to a Lithuanian refinery, and its anger at a planned U.S. missile shield in eastern Europe.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Russia on Monday seeking to patch up relations that have been strained by Kosovo and the missile defence plan. She said there was “no basis whatsoever” for talking of a new Cold War.
Germany said Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin agreed by telephone on Sunday they both wanted to make the summit a success, but the overall mood is more one of damage limitation.
There was no agreement at Monday’s EU foreign ministers’ session on a negotiating mandate to start talks with Moscow on the new partnership pact, diplomats said.
That never seemed likely after Russian Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev reaffirmed Moscow’s reasons for applying the 17-month ban on meat and other farm produce from its neighbour, which insists it is politically motivated.
Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga told reporters she was not happy with the way the German presidency was preparing for the summit because there were insufficient provisions on energy security as well as trade issues.
Officials stress EU-Russian ties can continue to function under an existing partnership agreement, even though it does not address the concerns of many in Europe that Moscow can use its energy dominance for political leverage.
Instead of deepening ties, discussions in Samara may have to focus more on de-mining areas of conflict.
Russia hardened its position on Kosovo on Saturday when its ambassador to the United Nations warned that Moscow may use its power of veto to block a draft U.N. Security Council resolution providing for effective independence for the province.
additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in Berlin