STOCKHOLM - The European Union's Swedish presidency urged Russia on Wednesday to do more to combat climate change and discussed Russian energy supplies to Europe, which could be threatened by a dispute with Ukraine.
A senior Russian official also confirmed at the start of a one-day summit with the EU that Moscow wanted to join the World Trade Organization on its own but would coordinate its entry with Belarus and Kazakhstan, its partners in a customs union.
The summit is intended to lay the foundations of a new economic and political partnership between the 27-country EU and Russia, but leaders are setting their sights low because ties are still fragile following Russia's war with Georgia last year.
We have talked about the most important issues... most importantly we discussed the climate change issue, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said after a bilateral Swedish-Russian meeting before the summit.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said Russia and Sweden, which holds the EU presidency until the end of this year, both had a lower level of harmful emissions than 20 years ago but have the potential to do more.
Medvedev did not immediately comment on Reinfeldt's call for more action on fighting the effects of global warming before international talks in Copenhagen next month.
The EU is at the forefront of efforts to combat climate change while Moscow is widely seen as lagging in this area.
CONCERN OVER ENERGY SUPPLIES
The EU is also concerned about the reliability of energy supplies from Russia and was expected to make this clear during the EU-Russia summit.
Russian gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine, a route that supplies a fifth of Europe's gas, were halted for more than two weeks in January because of a quarrel between Moscow and Kiev, and fears are growing of a new dispute this winter.
The EU and Russia signed a memorandum on Monday requiring both sides to notify the other of any likely disruption to energy supplies and to work together to resolve the problem.
We not only fully feel EU concerns but share them in full as a reliable supplier, Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the EU, told reporters.
He reiterated calls for the EU to help ensure Ukraine can pay its bills to Russia, suggesting it could use its leverage with the International Monetary Fund.
Chizhov confirmed Russia would seek to join the WTO as a separate entity and as soon as possible.
His comments removed some of the confusion caused by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in June when he said Russia would join only as part of the customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan which comes into force on Jan 1.
After the customs union was formed, some interpreted this as a sign of Russia losing interest in WTO. This is wrong, he said. Members of the customs union will join the WTO as separate entities but in a synchronized way and with common positions.
Joining the WTO would open markets to Russia, the biggest country outside the 153-country Organization, and open Russian markets to WTO member states. Russia must first resolve several trade and tariff issues.
The EU, which represents almost 500 million people, is Russia's biggest trading partner, accounting for about half its overall trade turnover in the first nine months of this year.
Russia, a country with vast natural resources and a population of about 142 million, hopes to win more foreign investment from the EU following the global economic crisis.
Relations are improving only slowly after the Georgia war in August 2008, which prompted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt to compare Russia's military intervention to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's invasion of parts of central Europe.