A senior Polish official said on Friday that Warsaw believed a compromise could still be found in the meat row and that the veto might be withdrawn within days.
EU officials said that even without the launch of talks on a new partnership agreement, setting out the broad principles of EU-Russian relations, there were other weighty issues on the summit agenda.
Asked about the state of EU-Russia relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the external affairs commissioner said: “I do not think they are messed up … I mean there are so many issues. It’s not only about launching a negotiation.”
Russian officials shrugged off the lack of an EU negotiating mandate. “It’s their problem,” said Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the bloc.
Vladimir Putin was to meet EU chiefs in the 19th century House of the Estates, a former parliament building near Helsinki’s Baltic sea front.
They were to hold a joint news conference at the end of the summit at 3.30pm (1330 GMT).
Russian officials said that if EU chiefs challenged Putin over his human-rights record he would counter by pointing to the treatment of ethnic Russians in new EU members Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Moscow says they suffer discrimination.
Poland was the first new member state to use its veto to block talks with a third country, and diplomats said many EU governments were exasperated by Warsaw’s tactics.
Russia said it had legitimate concerns about the origins of meat supplied via Poland, but Warsaw says the import ban was punishment for turning its back on its former imperial master Russia and embracing the West.
Moscow has threatened to escalate the meat row by banning all meat imports from the EU over concerns about food safety in Romania and Bulgaria, which are soon to join the bloc.
But the Russian delegation in Helsinki played down the threat and Solana said he was confident a solution could be agreed to avoid a ban.