RUSSIA, EU FOR 4 COMMON SPACES: PUTIN

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NOVO-OGAREVO, April 22 (RIA Novosti) - Talks are underway on Russian problems with EU expansion. Progress has been made at the negotiation table, says President Vladimir Putin.

He was receiving today top European Commission officers on his country residence at Novo-Ogarevo near Moscow. "I want to highlight positive shifts in the negotiations. One problem remains partly unsettled to this day. It concerns freight transits to Kaliningrad [Russia's Baltic exclave]. As the State Customs Committee president told me this morning, the matter has been coordinated in principle with the European union and with Russia's partners in Lithuania [via which the way to the exclave goes]. Proceeding from that, the European Commission, as represented by our respective partners, is making a resolution to spread all-European customs procedures to Russian cargoes," said Mr. Putin.

Russia and the EU have coordinated a protocol on commercial and economic issues related to the EU expansion, Hermann Gref, Russia's Minister of Economic Development and Trade, announced this morning.

The Parties have also come to an agreement on the Kaliningrad transits.

"The understandings we have made satisfy either Party," said the minister as he was summing up for the media his talks with an European expert delegation, led by Pascal Lamy, European Commissioner for Trade.

Mr. Lamy also took part in the conference with President Putin. Loyola de Palacio, European Commissioner for Relations with European Parliament, Transport and Energy, and European Commission Vice-President; Chris Patten, Commissioner in Charge of External Relations; Guenter Verheugen, Commissioner for Enlargement; Margot Wallstroem, for Environment; Philippe Busquin, for Research; and Antonio Vitorino, for Justice and Home Affairs, were the other members of the European Commission delegation to Novo-Ogarevo.

Representing the host country were Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov; Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs; presidential aides Victor Ivanov, Sergei Prikhodko and Sergei Yastrzhembsky; German Gref; and Vladimir Chizhov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of European cooperation.

"We have long been negotiating for a conference in this format, new to our partnership. We are glad that it has gathered at last, despite all. We see it as a good token of a shared goodwill to cooperate. It is all the more so as we have agreed to streamline the tools and patterns of our partnership," said President Putin.

He wished to Russia's ministers and their counterparts on the European Commission to establish good personal and official contacts.

The President confirmed Russia's desire to work for the four common environments-economic, home security, foreign security, and research and education, their cultural aspects included.

Romano Prodi, European Commission President, expressed satisfaction with the visit format. It shows to the whole world that our contacts are more than usual partnership, he said.

As he announced, negotiations will be launched within the year to simplify Russia-EU visa arrangements. Signor Prodi hopes the talks will bring a relevant agreement.

As for current negotiations for Russia to join the World Trade Organisation, something can be done at a bilateral level before next month's related summitry. The achievements he expects will come as an impetus to partnership, and give Russia and the European Union ample opportunities for genuine preferential relations with an exceptional status as a united economic environment emerges, said Romano Prodi.

"The four united Russia-EU environments were your own initiative. I think that's the direction in which our relations ought to progress," replied Vladimir Putin.

To discuss prospects for Russia-EU partnership in forming the four environments was principal goal of the Novo-Ogarevo conference, a Kremlin functionary said to Novosti.

The conferees gathered at no usual time, remarked our informant. The European Union expansion presupposes the European Commission enlarged, too. Ten Commissioners will join it after May 1 to represent the ten new EU countries. More than that, the Commission will have a new structure and membership by November 1, proceeding from the returns of a European Parliament election, due June.

As Romano Prodi said in a Novosti interview on the eve of his arrival in Russia, talks with President Vladimir Putin and Russia's Cabinet are the central target of his visit to Moscow shortly before an epoch-making EU eastward enlargement. He expected the negotiations to bring out new opportunities for Russia-EU contacts.

The European Commission delegates were determined to confirm their intention to issue a joint statement on EU enlargement and EU-Russia relations. To be made at an upcoming session of the EU-Russia Partnership Council (Luxembourg, April 27), the statement will take into account Russia's concerns over the EU expansion, stressed Signor Prodi.

The nearest Russia-EU summit will be held in Moscow, May 21, Sergei Lavrov announced to the Novo-Ogarevo gathering.

President Putin hopes the Commissioners' current routine sojourn in Moscow will promote summit preparations, he said to the conferees.

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