MOSCOW, July 1 (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday appointed a close ally to liaise with the European Union, an appointment one analyst said showed the Kremlin was serious about strengthening ties with the bloc.
Medvedev issued a decree appointing Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov as special presidential representative for cooperation with the European Union on freedom, security and justice.
The decree, published on Medvedev’s internet site, www.kremlin.ru, did not give details of what that role would involve. Konovalov will keep his justice ministry portfolio.
The post was previously held by Viktor Ivanov, a low-profile aide to former President Vladimir Putin.
Konovalov graduated from the same law faculty as Medvedev in Russia’s second city of St Petersburg and is widely seen as a member of the president’s inner circle.
After he was sworn in as head of state in May, Medvedev promoted Konovalov, then presidential envoy in the Volga river region, to head the justice ministry.
Fyodr Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, said Konovalov may be tasked with pushing a proposal, unveiled by Medvedev last month, for a new security structure in Europe that would be more inclusive than NATO.
“For many years, relations between the EU and Russia have been limited mainly to the economy, so it’s an interesting sign that Medvedev is willing to extend the base of interests,” Lukyanov told Reuters.
“It could be interpreted as a practical move towards endorsing the idea expressed by Medvedev ... towards a new security arrangement.”
At a summit in the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk last week, EU and Russian leaders indicated they wanted to make a fresh start in their relations.
The bloc is Russia’s biggest trading partner, while the EU imports a quarter of its gas supplies from Russia.
Under former President Vladimir Putin, ties between Russia and the EU were often frosty, with disputes over trade, human rights and energy supplies. (Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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