'Encouraging signs'

 

Medvedev will meet EU officials just seven weeks after taking over from Vladimir Putin, his predecessor and ally, who had presided for eight years over Russia's biggest economic boom in a generation.

 

Putin's aggressive drive to reassert Russia's political and economic clout in Europe and elsewhere in the world and to limit Western influence at home have strained relations with many EU members, some of whom are former Soviet allies.

 

Although Medvedev has pledged to continue Putin's policies, he appears to be signalling a less confrontational course in relations with Europe.

 

"In terms of priorities for the relationship between Russia and the European Union, this is a relationship between the Russian federation, a major European state which defines itself and conducts itself as part of Europe, and the European Union," he told the Reuters news agency in an interview.

 

EU officials said they liked the softer tone from the Kremlin but wanted to see whether it would translate into genuine change.

 

"We see... encouraging signs, but obviously it is a new president in a new position with his ambitions and we need to find out how he wants to implement these policy aims," one EU official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

"So while we welcome the announcements we are very interested in hearing about the ways he is going to go about this."