Russia and the European Union, both humbled by economic crisis, are set to brush geopolitical disputes aside at a summit next week and instead focus on brass-tacks measures to boost their economies.
Both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the EU leaders visiting the Russian city of Rostov on Monday and Tuesday are too preoccupied with financial problems at home to risk exacerbating their few remaining disagreements, analysts said.
For once, this summit should look less like a shoot-out at the O.K. Corral and more like a friendly game of poker, said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at investment bank Uralsib.
The summit agenda is focused on boosting trade and investment, technology exchange and easing visa regulations.
But behind the scenes, top of the EU agenda will be securing an assurance that Russia will not do anything to undermine confidence in the euro, Weafer said.
Russia's Central Bank chairman on Thursday said for now he did not see the need sell any of the 41 percent of about $450 billion of currency reserves held in euro.
Moscow's main demand is cutting visa requirements for Russians traveling to Europe, a long-running aim that has caused increasing frustration as Brussels scraps visas for poorer states such as Bosnia and Albania.
We want to stop talking on a philosophical level about scrapping visas and start talking about the actual conditions, Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said at a pre-summit briefing on Friday.
Medvedev is also seeking EU help in weaning the Russian economy off its dependence on energy exports, which contributed to a 7.9 percent collapse in Russian GDP last year.
Moscow and Brussels agreed a Partnership for Modernization at their last summit in November through which the EU would provide technology, training and investment to Russia in return for reforms to make Russia's economy more open.
Russian officials, who reacted furiously to European hostility to bids by Russian companies to invest in German carmaker Opel and aerospace group EADS , say they want Europe to back up the partnership plan with concrete gestures.
The atmosphere at Monday's informal dinner and Tuesday's summit should reflect growing warmth over recent months. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso described their last summit in November as one of the best ever.
A leaked Russian Foreign Ministry draft this month spelled out a friendlier, more pragmatic foreign policy, raising hopes among Western diplomats for a softer stance from Moscow.
But a better atmosphere will not necessarily translate into an ambitious summit agreement, said Katinka Barysch, deputy director of the London-based Center for European Reform.
The relationship looks better, feels better, smells better, said Barysch. Whether that can be translated into concrete achievements remains to be seen.
One discordant note may be struck by EU complaints on rights abuse in Russia. Opposition groups plan a protest in Rostov and rights groups are calling for a tougher line from Brussels.
Russia has its own complaints, specifically the treatment of Russian minorities in the Baltic States.
But ultimately the success of the summit depends on the new EU leadership, headed by the EU's first full-time president Herman Van Rompuy, convincing Russia to take it seriously, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs.
The question for Russia is whether the new EU institutions can deliver, said Lukyanov. Right now Russia does not really see the EU as a global player.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)