Moscow and Brussels are a long way apart on several issues, and perhaps holding these talks in Russia’s far east is meant to underline that. Khabarovsk is nine hours ahead of central Europe, and close to China. Maybe the Kremlin wants to point out it has other important partners.
Nevertheless, ties with Europe remain strong – Russia’s recent boom means western luxury goods are available to those who can afford them. And Moscow would like to strengthen those ties. Next week the World Trade Organisation meets in Geneva, as Russia renews its decade-long pursuit of membership. All WTO members must approve membership before a country can join, and an invitation to the party has been stalled by American anger at Russia’s military incursion in Georgia last summer. Then too, Moscow is still furious at Washington’s plans for an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. President Obama has indicated the matter may be re-thought, but it is still on the table. Gas supplies to Europe are equally contentious. More than a quarter of Europe’s needs are met by Russia, and supplies were disrupted last winter after arguments between Moscow and Ukraine over an unpaid bill.