The semi-annual EU-Russia Summit, which began with an informal meeting in St. Petersburg Sunday, was pre-programmed to feature numerous points of contention, especially during today's main sessions: energy policy, "reforms" and "human rights," Syria and Iran, among other issues. The EU was represented by Council President Herman van Rompuy, foreign relations envoy Baroness Catherine Ashton, and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. President Vladimir Putin represented Russia, having flown to Germany and France on June 1 for separate bilateral meetings with their leaders; hence Putin's first European diplomacy after returning to the Presidency was with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, rather than the EU officials.
Already before arriving in St. Petersburg, Ashton laid out that she expects Russia to join harsher UN Security Council steps against Syria's Assad, saying that the "crisis is at a critical point" and the EU wants Russia to put pressure on Assad to withdraw heavy weapons from cities and comply fully with UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan. Ashton also met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whom she told that "Russia's role is crucial for the success of Annan's plan." She said the EU wanted to "work closely with Russia to find a way to end the violence," and that she had spoken to Annan by telephone yesterday. But in his talks with van Rompuy Monday, Putin did not move one inch in the European direction; he rejected any escalation of sanctions against Syria and termed the EU views unrealistic.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko urged the EU to stop trying "to project its own legislation on Russia," and enter into serious talks about the Putin proposal for a longer-term Russia-EU energy union which would also take into account the specific interests of Russia to keep a unified energy grid at home and not accept the European demand for deregulation, laid down in the EU's Third Energy Package, for the separation of energy production, transportation, and sales. That would basically affect Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom, which produces and sells gas and maintains its own transportation facilities.
In another statement issued in Moscow Monday morning, Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Russian State Duma's International Affairs Committee, attacked the duplicitous use of the human rights issue by Western governments, who were always "the first to inscribe human rights values on their banners," but observe them neither at home nor abroad. For example in the case of Libya, Pushkov noted that alleged "humanitarian interventions" were used as a cover for missile attacks on Tripoli.
Particularly addressing the recent British Report on Human Rights as "non-objective," Pushkov presented his own special report entitled "Human Rights Issues in the EU Member States." On May 14 Pushkov's committee held the first ever Duma hearings on human rights violations in the EU, including violations against immigrants, violation of citizens' rights under the pretext of the war on terrorism, and the treatment of the Russian ethnic minority in Estonia and other Baltic States. Three Russian Foreign Ministry officials responsible for relations with Europe and for humanitarian issues testified at those hearings.
In another slap at the phony human rights issue, on Sunday, June 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a strong statement against the rigged vote of the UN Human Rights Council to start a new investigation of the Houla massacre.
"The text of the UN Human Rights Council resolution goes beyond its mandate and actually runs counter to the UN Security Council Statement of May 27," said the Foreign Ministry statement.
"The attempts by some countries to name the culprits without waiting for the findings of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS)....and therefore exert pressure on the UN Security Council..... Our country speaks against involving the UN Human Rights Council for triggering a use-of-force scenario in Syria," the statement emphasized.