STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Russia set a new target for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions at a summit with the European Union on Wednesday but failed to clear up confusion over its plans to join the World Trade Organization.
The EU said the promise to make further reductions to those planned was a boost for climate talks in Copenhagen next month, and the good atmosphere at the meeting was a sharp contrast to previous EU-Russia summits that have been marred by disputes.
The EU also welcomed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s commitment to join the WTO quickly but he failed to answer their questions about whether Moscow would join as a separate state or as part of a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.
One sour note at the talks in Stockholm was a disagreement over human rights, with the EU expressing concern over the situation in Russia. But the sides said they hoped soon to agree a new framework agreement for economic and political ties and avoided any conflict over Russian energy supplies to Europe.
“With the Copenhagen conference starting in just over two weeks, I very much welcome the signal from President Medvedev today of their proposed emissions reduction target of 25 percent. This is indeed very encouraging,” Barroso said.
Asked to confirm the figure, Russian officials later said Medvedev had set a target of reducing harmful emissions by 22-25 percent by 2020 compared with the 1990 level. The previous target was 10-15 percent.
The EU is at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change and has urged other countries, including the United States and Russia, to make deeper emissions reductions and to help secure a new deal to fight climate change in Copenhagen.
A legally binding agreement is now thought out of reach in Copenhagen but Barroso, who heads the EU executive, said: “We have made very important progress in our talks with Russia on this very important issue.”
Russia, a country with vast natural resources and a population of about 142 million, hopes to win more foreign investment from the EU following the global economic crisis. No direct mention was made of this after talks.
Relations are improving only slowly after the Georgia war in August 2008, which prompted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt at the time to compare Russia’s military intervention to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s invasion of parts of central Europe.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU presidency, said the 27-country bloc representing nearly 500 million people had urged Moscow to carry out all the commitments it made at the end of the fighting in Georgia.
“We exchanged views on developments on human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Russia, especially on the situation for human rights defenders in Russia. It’s an increasing cause for concern,” he added.
There was harmony, however, on energy issues. Both sides welcomed the signing on Monday of a memorandum requiring them to notify each other of any likely disruption to energy supplies and to work together to resolve the problem.
Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine, a route that supplies a fifth of Europe’s gas, were halted for more than two weeks in January because of a quarrel between Moscow and Kiev, and fears are growing of a new dispute this winter.
Medvedev said Russia would seek quick entry to the 153-nation WTO but said no decision had been taken on whether to join alone or with Kazakhstan and Belarus, the two former Soviet republics which are part of a customs union with Russia.
“In my opinion both ways are possible,” he said. “For us the main thing is speed. Whatever way is faster, we will take it.”
Russia’s powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said in June Moscow would join the WTO only as part of the customs union, causing concern in the WTO over Russia’s commitment to joining the body which would open up Russian markets.
Additional reporting by Simon Johnson; Editing by Charles Dick