European Union Summit: Moscow moves closer to West

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CORFU - Once more the old cry echoes round the chancelleries of Europe: 'The Russians are coming] The Russians are coming]' But this time it is shouted with glee, and the visitors from the east are in vast convoys of limousines, not military vehicles, writes Andrew Marshall.

Boris Yeltsin dined with his colleagues from the European Union last night, the latest in a long line of efforts to draw Moscow closer to the West. This morning Mr Yeltsin will sign a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) that will set up new trade and investment relations between the EU and Russia.

After long months of negotiations, the two finally managed to stitch up a deal in time for the Russian leader to attend the Corfu summit, bridging crucial gaps on trade in nuclear materials and the rights of foreign banks.

It is only hours since Andrei Kozyrev, the Russian Foreign Minister, signed a Partnership for Peace deal in Brussels, establishing military and political ties with the Nato alliance. Mr Yeltsin's next stop is Naples in July, for the annual summit of the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations, at which he is now an honoured guest, if a slightly uncomfortable one. Mr Yeltsin would like to become a full member of the G7, but this is not accepted by those around the table.

Joining clubs and signing deals is important to Russia, partly as a matter of prestige. Russia would also like membership of the Council of Europe, the 32-member body concerned with human rights, cultural ties and co-operation on civil matters. These aspirations have been encouraged by the West, which believes that the best hope of creating a new stable and co- operative Russia is to create the same kind of networks with it that sprung up in Western Europe in the post-war years.

But getting the EU and Nato deals signed has taught some important lessons. Negotiators from both the EU and Nato say that at several points, the old, hardline Moscow attitude prevailed: pocketing concessions by the other side and refusing to budge. They also say that in the last year, Russia's view of what constitutes its national interest has hardened, and that they are now dealing with a much more self-confident entity than 12 months ago.