Putin boosts EU ties but blasts Baltics

Russia's agreement with the European Union to strengthen ties has been tarnished by Russian President Vladimir Putin's tirade on his Baltic neighbours.

    Putin (L) held talks with EU leaders to improve cooperation

    Putin angrily accused Baltic states on Tuesday of "political demagoguery" in churning up historic resentment towards Moscow, souring a summit designed to cement relations between the EU and Russia.

    Putin was speaking minutes after Russia signed the agreement with the EU to strengthen ties that have frayed since 2004 when ascension of new states - including three former Soviet Baltic republics - brought the bloc to Russian borders.

    "We are ready to sign an agreement on borders ... with Estonia and Latvia. We hope they will not be accompanied by idiotic - in terms of their content - demands of a territorial nature," said Putin.

    US visit

    Putin made his comments in the wake of US President George Bush's four-day visit to Europe.

    Bush urged Russia to respect
    democracies along its border

    Bush expressed open sympathy with the Baltic states over their complaints about relations with Moscow, but declined to back their pleas for an apology from Russia for what they call the Soviet occupation after the end of the second world war.

    In their meeting on Sunday, Bush urged Putin to respect budding democracies on his border, and to push ahead with internal reform - a reference to what some US officials say is Russia's backsliding on democracy.

    Neighbourly relations

    Russia has yet to sign a border agreement with Baltic neighbours Latvia and Estonia, a move that has been repeatedly delayed by poor ties between Moscow and the Baltics.

    "Let's start dividing up everything in Europe? No, no. I don't think so. We appeal to Baltic politicians to stop practising political demagoguery and start constructive work"

    Vladimir Putin,
    Russian President

    Putin called a Latvian territorial claim dating back to 1945 "total nonsense".

    "It does not fit with the spirit of creating a common European home," said Putin in an angry outburst that appeared to take aback EU officials present at a Kremlin news conference held after the signing of the EU-Russian agreement.

    "Let's start dividing up everything in Europe? No, no. I don't think so. We appeal to Baltic politicians to stop practising political demagoguery and start constructive work. Russia is ready for such work," said Putin.

    His remarks were a reminder that resentment among Baltic countries - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - have the potential to unsettle relations between Moscow and the EU.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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