Putin issues veiled warning to Poland on EU talks
LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) President Vladimir Putin said in a veiled warning to Poland and other East European nations today, they risked creating fresh divisions in Europe by treating Russia as an enemy instead of a strategic partner.
Poland has been blocking consensus in the EU on a mandate for talks with Russia on a new strategic partnership, due to be launched at a summit in Helsinki on Friday, saying Moscow must first end or promise to end a ban on Polish food imports.
Poland said yesterday, it would drop a theatened veto on the talks if the EU met conditions it had set out in a letter sent to the Finnish EU presidency. It gave no details.
In an article in the Financial Times, Putin wrote that some in Europe were trying to fit EU-Russian relations into ''the obsolete model of 'friend or foe''', but there should be nothing to fear from growing interdependence between the two sides.
''Such stereotypes have little in common with reality, but their persistent influence on political thinking and practice runs the risk of creating fresh divisions in Europe,'' he said.
''The past must not be used to divide us, because we cannot rewrite history.'' The Financial Times said although Putin did not mention Poland by name, he clearly had the country in his sights along with the seven other formerly communist countries that joined the European Union in 2004 and regarded Moscow with suspicion.
PUTIN'S GOAL Putin said he hoped for progress towards a new EU-Russian cooperation pact in Helsinki to replace one that is due to expire next year.
''Our current goal is to join forces so that Russia and the EU can build a common future as partners and allies,'' he said.
''Future talks should not deteriorate into an exchange of complaints. We will not be able to turn a new leaf in the history of our cooperation if we succumb to fear of growing interdependence.'' Putin said economic and political relations between the 25-nation EU and Russia were maturing, with cooperation in areas such as international security, industry and justice.
''In spite of tactical differences, we have a common desire to find a fair solution to the most complicated international problems, such as the Wasia conflict or the issue of the Iranian 'nuclear dossier','' said Putin.
Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski told a news conference yesterday, his government had set the EU certain unspecified conditions and he was now awaiting an answer from Finland. He declined to give details.
Failure to agree on a negotiating mandate would embarrass the EU, which needs unanimity to open talks with the powerful neighbour that supplies some 30 per cent of the bloc's energy. The talks will cover energy, trade, investment and human rights.
Russia banned imports of Polish meat and some other foods a year ago after discovering forged veterinary certificates.
Moscow says the ban was a bilateral step taken in response to import fraud and has rejected offers by the European Commission to mediate.
Warsaw says the ban is politically motivated, aimed at splitting the EU and isolating former Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe that stand up to Moscow.
Polish officials say Poland has met all the requirements needed to export to the Russian market.
REUTERS SSC VV1040