Russia pledges at least $10 billion to save euro

By Slobodan Lekic

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 15 2011 6:06 a.m. MST

BRUSSELS — Russia, hoping to keep its largest export market from collapsing, will give at least $10 billion to the International Monetary Fund to help support the struggling euro currency, an aide to President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday.

Russian officials have said in the past that the country would offer up to $10 billion. But Arkady Dvorkovich, a Medvedev economic adviser, indicated the total may be greater because Russia has a big economic stake in the European Union, where a debt crisis is dragging down economies and the 17-nation eurozone.

"We are ready to contribute our part via the IMF. We are committed to do it. Ten billion dollars is the minimum commitment," Dvorkovich told journalists reporting from the 28th EU-Russia summit in Brussels, where other major issues included visa liberalization and the contentious Russian election.

Russia exports more to the EU than to any other market, and Russia is the EU's third-largest trading partner. Total trade amounts to €245 billion ($318 billion). Russia also is the EU's most important source of energy imports, accounting for nearly a quarter of its natural gas consumption and 30 percent of its oil.

In opening remarks, Medvedev said "it is no secret" that the EU is Russia's major economic partner and that Moscow is worried about the euro's troubles.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, meanwhile, acknowledeged that Russia and the EU "are strongly interdependent." Van Rompuy is hosting Medvedev for the twice-yearly meeting.

Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizov, said Medvedev would be ready for any questions about alleged election fraud in Russia's Dec. 4 parliamentary elections.

The EU has avoided overt criticism of the elections, which have sparked mass protests in Moscow and other cities. But European parliament speaker Jerzy Buzek called Wednesday for new free and fair elections and a probe into reports of fraud and intimidation.

"The voice of the people protesting on the streets for more than one week must be heard," Buzek said.

Still, economic issues were dominating the talks, which come as the World Trade Organization is set to approve Russia's membership. Russia — the largest economy still outside the WTO — had been trying to join for 18 years. A Swiss-brokered deal with Georgia last month cleared the last major hurdle for Russia.

Medevedev thanked the EU for its support of Russia's candidacy, saing "it will give a strong impulse to our cooperation."

The two sides also are set to launch, after years of negotiations, a set of joint steps that will lead to visa-free travel for Russian citizens — a long-standing irritant in relations. The measures include the introduction of biometric passports, as well as improved border management to combat transnational crime, terrorism and corruption.

Chizov said Syria and Iran were also among topics of discussion. Russia has blocked a bid by the United States and EU nations to impose sanctions against Syria, where a government crackdown on dissidents has killed thousands, and opposes any further moves on Iran, whose nuclear program worries the West.

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