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Talks with EU will be 'long and difficult', predicts Putin's former envoy to EU

Moscow, 26 May: Russia-EU talks on a new strategic agreement will be "long and difficult", according to Sergey Yastrzhembskiy, an independent expert who until recently has been the Russian president's special representative for relations with the EU.

"The procedure itself of decision-taking within the EU is extremely complicated and the positions of the countries and groups within the EU as regards Russia differ rather significantly. I foresee that these talks will be rather long, protracted and difficult, above all because there is no clear understanding inside the EU of the essence of partnership as regards Russia," Yastrzhembskiy told Interfax on Monday (26 May).

"The protracted process whereby the EU member states agreed their positions on the European Commission approving a mandate for talks with Russia on a new agreement which has taken so many years, shows that these talks won't be easy," he said.

On Monday, the EU Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs approved, as item number one on the agenda, a negotiating mandate for a new EU-Russia basic agreement.

"Despite the fact that this process has been unjustifiably protracted, nevertheless the fact that the EU has finally found resources within itself to overcome internal problems, reach a consensus decision and give the go-ahead to talks is good news, particularly on the eve of a new EU-Russia summit," Yastrzemski said.

According to him, as a result of the European Commission approving the mandate for talks with Russia on a new agreement, the "atmosphere on the eve of the summit is changing for the better".

Yastrzhembskiy forecasts that the new agreement will attach great attention to energy security.

"The EU's desire to attach more attention in the agreement to energy is understandable. To a large extent, the EU's prosperity is linked to energy security. We remain indeed very reliable energy partners for the EU. There is no doubt that we are interested in energy security on the European continent as much as the EU," Yastrzemski said.

"We have never been engaged in political games over our partner's energy security. No-one has any doubt that energy will be one of the top issues at the talks. It is another matter that there is a desire on the part of a group of EU countries to include in the new agreement some of the clauses about which Russia was unhappy in the Energy Charter. Our negotiators are unlikely to agree to this," he added.