* Relations soured by energy, trade disputes
* EU concerned by Russian actions on civil, human rights
By Adrian Croft
BRUSSELS, Dec 21 Russian President Vladimir
Putin and European Union leaders are likely to clash over issues
ranging from Syria to trade, energy and human rights on Friday
when Putin holds his first talks in Brussels since his
re-election as president in May.
Relations between the 27-nation bloc and Russia, its main
external supplier of energy and a key trading partner, have been
soured by rows over gas pipelines and brewing trade disputes
over cars and pigs.
European leaders have taken issue with the jailing of
members of punk band Pussy Riot, prosecutions of opposition
figures and laws restricting protests and foreign-funded
organisations since Putin was re-elected.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in September
such moves constituted "a trend that is of very serious concern
to the European Union".
Russian and EU officials expect no breakthroughs in Putin's
talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. Some commentators
are surprised Putin is bothering to make the trip.
"The last few EU-Russia summits have achieved very little
and for Putin I think it is really a box-ticking exercise and I
am almost surprised he is going at all," said James Nixey, an
expert on Russia at London's Chatham House thinktank.
No meeting of minds is likely over Syria where Russia has
been sharply at odds with Western powers over a conflict that
has killed more than 40,000 people since an uprising against
President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
France and other Western states have criticised Russia for
vetoing three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at
ENERGY TO TOP AGENDA
Energy, long a source of conflict between Brussels and
Moscow, is set to dominate the Brussels talks.
Europe relies on Russia to cover around a quarter of its
natural gas needs, but over the past decade Moscow has had a
series of disputes with its ex-Soviet neighbours - Ukraine and
Belarus - that disrupted its gas exports to Europe.
Those disputes increased the EU's determination to diversify
supply away from Russia.
Ukraine's president pulled out of gas supply talks with
Putin at the last minute on Tuesday, raising new concerns about
the reliability of supplies to Europe.
The EU's executive Commission added to tensions between
Europe and Moscow in September when it opened an investigation
into suspected anti-competitive market practices by Russia's
Another energy dispute expected to crop up at the summit is
over Gazprom's Nord Stream gas pipeline.
Nord Stream carries gas from Russia to Germany, avoiding the
eastern European transit states, such as Ukraine which Moscow
has had pricing disputes with in the past.
Gazprom owns 51 percent of Nord Stream, putting it at odds
with EU law preventing suppliers of energy from dominating
distribution networks within the EU.
Russia maintains that the EU legal provision, which could
force it to sell off part of its stake, is a restriction on
trade that is contrary to World Trade Organisation rules.
The issue "is certainly one of the obstacles that has to be
addressed by Russian and EU energy companies," Vladimir Chizhov,
Russia's ambassador to the EU, said this week.
Trade disputes will also be high on the agenda in the talks,
which will also involve Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov,
Energy Minister Alexander Novak and Economy Minister Andrei
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said this month time
was running out for Russia to settle trade disputes with the EU
on everything from pigs to cars and he threatened to take Moscow
to the WTO.
The EU says Russia, which joined the WTO this year after a
19-year wait, unfairly levies fees on imported vehicles,
unreasonably bans EU exports of live animals and makes it costly
for the bloc to export hundreds of products, especially wood.