Tension and angry clashes were predicted at the Russia-EU summit with energy a thorny issue between the two sides.
But it was with embraces and broad smiles that host Vladimir Putin and his guests greeted the media in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, presenting an agreement set to boost bilateral ties. The deal eases visa restrictions for certain types of travellers including Russian and EU students and journalists.
The Russian president said it marked the first step towards visa-free travel between his country and the European Union. An accord was also signed making the deportation of illegal immigrants easier. Energy has been a sensitive subject since Moscow cut off the gas taps to Ukraine in January during a pricing dispute.
Supplies to Europe were disrupted as a consequence and despite reassurances from Russia, EU members fear the same thing could happen again.
But Wolfgang Schussel, Chancellor of Austria, the current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, is optimistic that differences can be resolved.
“We are as interested as Russia to avoid further misunderstandings and we hope to establish a co-operation based on transparency, market principles, non-discrimination, predictability, economic and ecological reciprocity and security of investment,” he told reporters.
President Putin however stuck by his position that the Kremlin will only bow to European requests for greater access to Russia’s energy sector if Russian companies are allowed into European markets in exchange.
In other talks, the two sides discussed Iran, the Middle East and how to replace a bilateral partnership and co-operation agreement due to expire next year.