Putin, EU likely to remain at odds
Disputes between Russia and the European Union are wide-ranging. Contentious topics will likely be under discussion at Friday's meeting in Brussels between leaders of the two political powerhouses.
Russian President Vladimir Putin¬†and¬†European Union¬†leaders are likely to clash over issues ranging from¬†Syria¬†to trade, energy and human rights on Friday when Putin¬†holds his first talks in¬†Brussels¬†since his re-election as president in May.
Relations between the 27-nation bloc and¬†Russia, its main external supplier of energy and a key trading partner, have been soured by rows over gas pipelines and brewing trade disputes over cars and pigs.
European leaders have taken issue with the jailing of members of punk band Pussy Riot, prosecutions of opposition figures and laws restricting protests and foreign-funded organisations since Putin¬†was re-elected.
EU foreign policy chief¬†Catherine Ashton¬†said in September such moves constituted "a trend that is of very serious concern to the¬†European Union".
Russian and EU officials expect no breakthroughs in Putin's talks with¬†European Commission¬†President Jose Manuel Barroso and¬†European Council¬†President¬†Herman Van Rompuy. Some commentators are surprised Putin¬†is bothering to make the trip.
"The last few EU-Russia¬†summits have achieved very little and for Putin¬†I think it is really a box-ticking exercise and I am almost surprised he is going at all," said¬†James Nixey, an expert on¬†Russia¬†at London's Chatham House think tank.
No meeting of minds is likely over¬†Syria¬†where¬†Russia¬†has been sharply at odds with Western powers over a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people since an uprising against President¬†Bashar al-Assad¬†began in March 2011.
Energy to top agenda¬†
Energy, long a source of conflict between¬†Brussels¬†and¬†Moscow, is set to dominate the¬†Brussels¬†talks.
Europe¬†relies on¬†Russia¬†to cover around a quarter of its natural gas needs, but over the past decade¬†Moscow¬†has had a series of disputes with its ex-Soviet neighbours -¬†Ukraine¬†and¬†Belarus¬†- that disrupted its gas exports to¬†Europe.
Those disputes increased the EU's determination to diversify supply away from¬†Russia.
Ukraine's president pulled out of gas supply talks with Putin¬†at the last minute on Tuesday, raising new concerns about the reliability of supplies to¬†Europe.
The EU's executive Commission added to tensions between¬†Europe¬†and¬†Moscow¬†in September when it opened an investigation into suspected anti-competitive market practices by¬†Russia's state-dominated Gazprom.
Another energy dispute expected to crop up at the summit is over Gazprom's¬†Nord Stream¬†gas pipeline.
Nord Stream¬†carries gas from¬†Russia¬†to¬†Germany, avoiding the eastern European transit states, such as¬†Ukraine¬†which¬†Moscow¬†has had pricing disputes with in the past.
Gazprom owns 51 percent of¬†Nord Stream, putting it at odds with EU law preventing suppliers of energy from dominating distribution networks within the EU.
Russia¬†maintains that the EU legal provision, which could force it to sell off part of its stake, is a restriction on trade that is contrary to¬†World Trade Organisation¬†rules.
The issue "is certainly one of the obstacles that has to be addressed by Russian and EU energy companies,"¬†Vladimir Chizhov,¬†Russia's ambassador to the EU, said this week.
EU Trade Commissioner¬†Karel De Gucht¬†said this month time was running out for¬†Russia¬†to settle trade disputes with the EU on everything from pigs to cars and he threatened to take¬†Moscow¬†to the WTO.
The EU says¬†Russia, which joined the WTO this year after a 19-year wait, unfairly levies fees on imported vehicles, unreasonably bans EU exports of live animals and makes it costly for the bloc to export hundreds of products, especially wood.