Russia, EU Talks Focus on Energy, Rights, Syria

Posted December 21st, 2012 at 10:50 am (UTC-5)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin is in talks with European Union officials at a summit in Brussels, discussing contentious issues such as energy, trade, human rights and policy on Syria.

Mr. Putin met Friday with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

Russia supplies a large chunk of Europe's energy needs, but its bargaining power has suffered as the European Union attempts to diversify its routes of supply. The two sides are at odds over compromises the EU says Russia needs to make in the construction of a proposed oil pipeline.

Tensions are also high over new laws the Russian parliament has swiftly approved since Mr. Putin's re-election as president earlier this year. The legislation is seen by the West as designed to restrict civic freedoms and stifle dissent.

Outside the European Council building Friday, several women who are members of the rights organization FEMEN were arrested for parading topless as they protested Mr. Putin's record on human rights.

Syria is also high on the summit agenda, with Russia signaling a slightly more flexible stance regarding its longtime ally. Mr. Putin told reporters that Russia wants to see a stable, democratic government in the war-torn nation rather than chaos.

Russia has been at odds with Western powers over the Syrian conflict and has vetoed United Nations Security Council votes aimed at pressuring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Also Friday, the EU approved new sanctions against Iran, adding 18 companies or institutions and one person to a blacklist aimed at pressuring Tehran to give up its nuclear program.