Kremlin blocks chess master from attending EU summit

Last updated at 12:43 18 May 2007

Moscow airport police stopped Russian anti-Kremlin activist and chess champion Garry Kasparov and other opposition leaders boarding a flight to Samara near an EU summit where they had hoped to lead a protest today.

Russia and the European Union clashed over a string of issues at the summit today, showing moves towards closer ties have stumbled.

The EU firmly took the side of its members Poland, Lithuania and Estonia in their separate rows with Moscow, which once dominated them, over trade and a war memorial.

As expected, the EU-Russia summit on the Volga river failed to unblock the launch of talks on an EU-Russia partnership agreement which are stalled because Poland is vetoing them as part of a trade row with Russia.

The barring of Kasparov and the other leaders from the summit has only further clouded the atmosphere.

President Vladimir Putin told the summit news conference that the actions of police in dealing with protesters were "not always justified" but he said no country, including in the EU, could boast a perfect democracy.

In a clear reference to Poland, Putin attacked what he called the "economic selfishness" of some EU countries. He also attacked Estonia for moving a Soviet-era war memorial that is revered in Russia.

But European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel representing the EU at the summit, appeared to stand fully behind Poland, Estonia and Lithuania, which is also locked in a trade row with Moscow.

"We had occasion to say to our Russian partners that a difficulty for a member state is a difficulty for the whole European community," Barroso told a news conference after the summit.

"The Polish problem is a European problem. The Lithuanian and Estonia problems are also EU problems. It is very important if you want to have close cooperation to understand that the EU is based on principles of solidarity."

On the embargo on Polish meat, imposed by Russia because it said it doubted it was safe for human consumption, Barroso said: "We believe there are no reasons for a ban."

The summit took place at a riverside holiday resort about 1,000 km (600 miles) south-east of Moscow.

The differences at the talks highlighted the difficulty for Brussels of balancing good ties with the Kremlin and the need to appease newer EU members in eastern Europe which, for historical reasons, view Russia with suspicion.

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