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Sweden hopes gas talks don't turn poisonous at EU-Russia summit

Sweden hopes gas talks don't turn poisonous at EU-Russia summit

Published: 16 Nov 2009 17:11 GMT+01:00
Updated: 16 Nov 2009 17:11 GMT+01:00

EU and Russian leaders will open summit talks in Sweden on Wednesday in an atmosphere clouded by uneasy relations between Moscow and Stockholm over human rights and last's year's war in Georgia.

Officially the one-day summit is focussed on energy issues, with the Europeans seeking to avoid another winter of interrupted supplies of Russian natural gas via Ukraine.

A quarter of the gas consumed throughout the European Union comes from Russia, with most of it transiting Ukraine, which regularly has rows with Russia over bills.

At the summit Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt of Sweden, which holds the rotating EU presidency, will host Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

They will be hoping to agree on an enhanced 'early warning mechanism' aimed at avoiding any such crises in future, according to a pre-summit note.

However the European side is calling for this system of information exchange to be accompanied by "clear political assurances" from Russia and "third countries concerned" that any further dispute between them will not lead to the taps to Europe being turned off.

Moscow seems not to have heard that request yet.

Russia's ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said last week that he was unaware of a call for such guarantees, which he said would in any case be impossible to provide.

"We are living in a changing world. Giving guarantees on issues dependent on third countries is not something responsible to do," he said, referring to Ukraine.

Russia would prefer the European Union to aid Kiev financially to pay its gas bills and avoid any more problems.

Agreement will have to be reached despite the strained ties between Moscow and Stockholm.

Last year Sweden and Poland championed the setting up of an Eastern Partnership for the EU with six nations which Russia still considers to be within its sphere of influence: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Sweden's foreign minister Carl Bildt has also upset Moscow with comments over its human rights record and its brief 2008 war in Georgia.

As a sign of the tensions, the Russians had appeared set at one stage to refuse to attend any summit in Stockholm, according to Swedish sources, preferring the more neutral Brussels.

Moscow still bears a grudge against Bildt over his criticism in August 2008 when he compared Russia's action in Georgia with Hitler's invasion of central Europe.

"We have reason to remember how Hitler used this very doctrine little more than half a century ago to undermine and attack substantial parts of central Europe," Bildt had said, provoking fury in Moscow.

Those comments "were not very helpful" for bilateral relations between Russia and Sweden or "for the atmospherics of the Russia-EU dialogue during the Swedish (EU) presidency," Chizhov said on Friday.

"I hope we'll have constructive discussions rather than a heated exchange of criticism," during the summit, he added.

He may be disappointed, as the Swedes have said they want to push the human rights issue on Wednesday.

"We welcome president Medvedev's comments on democracy and human rights but this has to be followed up with clear deeds, the situation of human rights in Russia is of great concern," Sweden's European affairs minister Cecilia Malmström said recently.

"We'd like to highlight recent events in north Caucasus where we've seen violence against human rights defenders, repression of minorities... also in Russia," she said.

The European side also intends to bring up recent Russian measures deemed protectionist and to see clarification on Russia's formation of a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, which could complicate EU-Russia negotiations on a reinforced partnership deal.

Underlining that there are business as well as political issues in play, the BusinessEurope federation wrote to EU trade commissioner Catherine Ashton last week saying its members were "particularly worried" at Russia's move.

by Yacine Le Forestier/AFP

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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Your comments about this article

11:27 November 17, 2009 by Nemesis
Bildt and Reinfeldt are hypocrites.

What about all the Sami that Sweden sterilised under its national Eurgenics policy before it joined the EU? That policy officially ended in the 70's. Only Nazi Germany sterilised more people. Most of the sterilisations occurred after WW2. The Swedish government fights all compensation claims for being forcibly sterilised and only pays out such small amounts as to be insulting.

During that sterilisation period, Sami, single mothers, poor people, etc were also sterilised. It was not about removing mental illness from society, otherwise they would have sterilised all of Stockholm, Småland, Dalarna and Skåne.

What about all the Jewish families who from 1933 to 1945 had there business's stripped of them, so as to appease the nazi's? They were never compensated and they never got there business's back.

For those of you who do not believe that, the mines were stripped of Jewish ownership in 33 to 35 before Hitler even marched into the Rhineland so as to appease the nazi's. That early intervention against Jewish ownership of business's has never been adequately explained and is always glossed over in Sweden.

Why did Sweden not lift a finger when Finland was attacked on Nov 30 1939 for no reason by the Russians, before Norway or Denmark were invaded?

Why did Sweden do nothing when Norway and Denmark were invaded on April 9, 1940.

Why did Sweden gladly supply the Nazi's with Iron? It is obvious by taking ownership of the mines from Jews in 33/34/35 that was nothing to do with later events.

Hypocrisy can only be ignored up to a point. After that, it is obvious it is blatant bigotry.

Thankfully during World War 2 a lot of Swedes fought for the Finns against the Russians, many of whom paid the ultimate price. Quite a few took serious risks to help fellow Danes and Norse.

During the upcoming conference, I hope Medvedev will talk at length about some moronic idiots from Sweden who did join the Waffen SS and fight on the Eastern Front so as to commit atrocities.

Almost every Russian family lost a relative in WW2. It is still a sensitive issue in Russia. If the Russians explain that to the Swedes in undiplomatic terms at the conference, they will deserve it.

Maybe then the Swedes will learn not to 'Erwähnung des Krieges'.

Regarding Georgia, that is a mess, in which both sides were as bad as each other.

Sweden has thrown Ukraine to the wolves, while holding the presidency of the EU. Ukrainian hopes of getting into the EU and Nato have went very far backwards with Sweden at the helm of the EU.

We Europeans need energy security. We do not need a halfwit in Stockholm screwing everything up who has constantly failed upwards to his present position and who could not organise a drinking session in a brewery.

We need the Russians onside, not looking for our blood.
08:02 November 19, 2009 by Marc the Texan
I think the whole point is for all of us to get beyond all the terrible mistakes of the past. Sweden has learned a lot from history and wants to keep everyone to high standard today as a result.
09:50 November 19, 2009 by Nemesis
@ Marc the Texan

My basic point is, we need Russian gas, not political point scoring.
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