By: CHRIS GRAEME
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin said he and his government were committed to democracy and human rights during last Friday’s EU-Russia summit in Mafra.
Addressing journalists in the famous library at the Convent Palace of Mafra, the former Soviet KGB serviceman and current Russian head of state said he wished to impart to the European Union that he would willingly accept the presence of election observers from the Organisation for European Cooperation and Security (OECS) at the forthcoming government elections in Moscow in December.
The Russian leader, noted for his cool and detached autocratic style, also proposed the creation of a new Euro-Russian
institute for the promotion of human rights.
The Kremlin’s ‘Iron Tsar’ also promised journalists at this, the umpteenth six-monthly EU-Russian summit, that he had no intention of altering the Russian Constitution in the context of the Presidential elections in March 2008, which according to Russian constitutional law, a President cannot stand for a third term.
Frequently accused by non-governmental organisations, quangos, of grossly violating human rights that on Friday he was promising to uphold, particularly in Chechnya, Putin also suggested that the new institute could be situated in Brussels or another European capital.
The Rotating President of the European Union, José Sócrates, indicated that he would study the proposal and confirmed the hope that “no one would play down the fact that this was the first summit which had taken positive steps in terms of human rights and democracy.”
The Portuguese Prime Minister also said that the summit was “constructive” and that “good work had been undertaken.”
During the summit, two important EU-Russia cooperation agreements were signed in the fight against drug trafficking and related crimes as well as an agreement on steel exports.
Sócrates, however, didn’t try to hide the fact that there were still great “differences between the two sides” despite the fact that 10 years ago both had signed a cooperation agreement, but yet still hadn’t succeeded in creating a genuine partnership of cooperation.
One of the present stumbling blocks concerns Poland’s decision to veto further cooperation with Russia following a Russian embargo on Polish meat “considered not up to standard.”
“An understanding between the two sides (Poland and Russia) has not, for now, been reached, but should be negotiated in the second half of 2008,” said an EU spokesman.
As regards to energy, Sócrates said that an early warning system was well on the way with regards to eventual gas cuts, such as the one that occurred in January 2006.
Putin also admitted there had been difficulties, without going into details, and referred to the necessity of reciprocal investment between the EU and Russia, while adding that rumours of Russian companies, like Gazprom, were wanting to buy up and monopolise the energy sector in Europe were “exaggerated.”
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