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EU, Russia cancel planned dinner, cut summit short

  • Article by: JUERGEN BAETZ
  • Associated Press
  • January 16, 2014 - 11:15 AM

BRUSSELS — European Union leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin have canceled a joint dinner and cut a long-planned summit short in the wake of their confrontation over Ukraine's future.

The summit was initially meant to start with the dinner and last until the following afternoon, but now the meeting with Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and others in Brussels on Jan. 28 will only last about 2 ½ hours, the EU said Thursday.

The format has been changed "in light of the recent developments," and participants will have an "in-depth reflection" about the EU-Russia relationship rather than a discussion about specific issues, Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said.

Russia in November lured Ukraine with financial incentives, including a $15-billion bailout loan, to snub the 28-nation bloc and seek closer cooperation with Moscow instead. The Ukrainian leadership's last-minute decision to side with Russia sparked weeks-long anti-government protests in Kiev and elsewhere in the country. The protests drew hundreds of thousands in the early weeks, and drew more than 20,000 into the streets on Sunday.

EU leaders have also been upset by Russia's efforts to lure other eastern European neighbors like Armenia back into its political and economic orbit and by what they say is the use of trade policies to discriminate against the EU's easternmost members along Russia's borders.

Russia remains a very important player on many international matters, such as Syria and Iran. And Russia and the European Union have very close economic ties and at times shared political interests, so neither side apparently wanted to cancel the summit — which will be the 31st and shortest such meeting since the late 1990s.

But Europeans will insist on voicing their concerns regarding the treatment of gay people, human rights issues and mounting pressure from Moscow on the EU's eastern neighbors, a Brussels-based diplomat from an EU nation said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't allowed by his government to discuss the matter publicly.

Kocijancic said the change for a much shorter meeting was made in agreement with Russia. In Moscow, Kremlin officials weren't immediately available for comment.

Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will attend the summit for Russia. On the EU side will be Barroso, EU Council President Herman van Rompuy and the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

The EU, with more than 500 million citizens, is Russia's largest trading partner. While the EU's exports are dominated by machinery, vehicles, chemicals and medicine, the bloc imports mostly raw materials, especially oil and gas, from Russia.

© 2014 Star Tribune