Russia hosts EU leaders for talks

By NATALIYA VASILYEVA | June 10, 2011 | 3:27 AM EDT

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) — Russia and European Union leaders held talks Friday on Moscow's blanket ban on European vegetables, energy projects and prospects for visa-free travel.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hosted EU President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow.

The EU-Russia summit has been overshadowed by Moscow's decision to ban all fresh vegetable imports from the EU due to the E. coli outbreak that has killed 29 people and sickened 2,900 others.

The EU has called the Russian ban disproportionate, but Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insisted it was necessary to protect the population.

Vegetable imports from EU countries last year accounted for nearly a quarter of all Russian vegetable imports, or 620,000 tons, Russian Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik said this week.

Despite seeming benefits for local producers, Russia is paying a high price for the ban as officials warn it will likely fuel inflation, which is already running at an annual rate of 9.6 percent.

Russian officials have said that that the ban will be lifted once the EU determines what caused the outbreak and how the bacteria spread.

Russian presidential adviser Sergei Prikhodko told reporters ahead of the summit that Moscow also plans to discuss EU regulations it considers discriminatory against Russian energy supplies.

The Kremlin said it will also use the occasion to push for visa-free travel between Russia and the EU.