Barroso stresses need to respect shared values with Russia

(dpa) - The head of the European Union executive said Monday shared values such as democracy and political freedom should guide the bloc's relations with Dmitry Medvedev's Russia.

"I am confident that under President Medvedev's leadership, the Russian Federation and the European Union will consolidate and develop their strategic partnership, based not only on common interests but also on respect for the values to which we both declared our commitment," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a congratulatory message.

Near-final results show Medvedev gained 70.1 per cent of the popular vote in elections deemed "neither free nor fair" by the head of the sole Western election observer.

In his message, Barroso assured Medvedev of his "personal engagement and that of the European Commission to the further deepening of European Union-Russia relations."

"The European Commission and I personally look forward to working closely together with President Medvedev and his administration," Barroso said.

Relations between Brussels and Moscow have been strained by disagreements on a wide range of issues, including a number of trade disputes and the future status of Kosovo, the newly independent Balkan state which Russia insists should remain a part of Serbia.

The EU is also eager to reduce its dependency on Russian oil and gas.

On Monday, Russian giant Gazprom reduced its regular supply of natural gas to Ukraine by a quarter because of a bilateral dispute, in a move that some fear could affect gas prices and supplies to EU member states.

Medvedev is listed as Gazprom's Chairman of the Board of Directors in the company's official website.

Pressed about the alleged violations that took place during Medvedev's election, commission officials insisted that the Brussels executive had always expressed its disagreements with Russia in a clear manner.

"Dialogue is always better than shutting the door," said external relations spokeswoman Christiane Hohmann.

Hohmann said it was in the commission's best interest to "start talks on a new agreement with Russia as soon as possible."

Such a deal should not shy away from discussions on democracy, freedom of the media and human rights, she said.

Russia and the EU first signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in 1997.

The PCA is founded "on shared principles and objectives - namely the promotion of international peace and security, support for democratic norms as well as for political and economic freedoms."

Brussels and Moscow hold regular consultations on a variety of issues, including trade and human rights.

The last major EU-Russia summit, which was attended by outgoing president Vladimir Putin, was held in Mafra, Portugal, in October.

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