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Russia aims for greater EU support

Putin
Putin: Focusing on the EU rather than the U.S.  

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Russia's emphasis on strengthening ties with the European Union appears to be its latest step in shifting its focus from the United States.

In his first state of the nation speech on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin did not mention the U.S. at all in his brief foreign policy section.

Instead he concentrated on developing Moscow's ties with the EU and former Soviet republics, and working toward membership in the World Trade Organisation.

It was not the first time Putin had emphasised his desire for greater links with the EU.

At an EU summit in Stockholm last month, Putin called for co-operation, saying Russia could help ensure continuity of energy supplies for Europe if Western Europe nations provided the funding to develop energy production in his country.

He also declared that use of Russia as a conduit to the East could cut costs for EU businesses and boost growth and jobs in the EU.

CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley said Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, who holds the rotating EU presidency, had been making a particular effort to draw Russia into the EU.

"The EU has been aware that Russia is sensitive about EU enlargement, particularly with Kaliningrad becoming a Russian island stuck in the middle of the EU," he said.

Kaliningrad could become an isolated pocket of Russia if Poland and Lithuania join the EU in the near future, as seems likely.

Russia has already expressed anger at U.S. plans for a National Missile Defence system, which has also concerned several European leaders.

"Putin is keen to exploit the distaste French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have for the NMD," Oakley said.

Putin's omission of the U.S. in his speech is unlikely to effect the U.S.-EU relationship. The EU was already expecting a more distant relationship with the Bush administration than with the previous administration, Oakley said.

"Bush is not rushing to Europe. By visiting Mexico first rather than the EU, he has shown that his focus is elsewhere," he added.

Bush is due to meet Putin at the G8 summit in July.



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