Russian President Vladimir Putin goes into talks with the EU on Friday in feisty form, tackling a lengthy agenda of contentious issues including human rights, Syria and trade ties.
Moscow has followed the twists and turns of the debt crisis which has pushed the European economy to the brink of recession, expressing support for Brussels' dogged efforts to tame the storm.
The 30th EU-Russia summit in 15 years is a "tribute to the indispensable nature of our partnership," EU President Herman Van Rompuy said in a statement this week.
"Together the EU and Russia can make a decisive contribution to global governance and regional conflict resolution."
Putin however arrives after urging closer ties with former Soviet states so as to limit the influence of a West which holds that he is trying to restore the economic and defence ties of the Communist era.
Western attempts "to force other nations to accept their own standards can lead to the most serious circumstances," Putin said after meeting leaders of Belarus and Armenia this week.
In Brussels, human rights are prominent among EU concerns, while Putin has condemned what he sees as interference by the West in supporting Russian opposition groups.
Progress on this issue could prove difficult still, with Putin in uncompromising form Thursday during the first long, televised press conference of his third presidential term.
He insisted that his government was not authoritarian and that democracy means "first and foremost obeying the law," he said.
The timing of the summit is delicate as the conflict in Syria claims yet more lives though Putin suggested Thursday that Moscow might reconsider its support of long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad.
"We are not concerned about (Assad's fate). We understand that the family has been in power for 40 years and there is a need for change," he said.
The EU and Russia share trade of more than 300 billion euros and Russia supplied 29 percent of EU oil and gas needs in 2011, but even such ties can prove problematic.
Brussels says Moscow has not lived up to the commitments it made to win World Trade Organization membership but Russia insists it needs more time to adjust to the painful compromises involved.
Putin conceded Russia had to do more Thursday but also noted that WTO old-timers knew how to use its machinery "to defend their interests and we also have to learn how to do this."
Freeing up the visa system could also figure prominently, with both sides looking for concessions.
Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said this week that differences were only to be expected in such a wide-ranging relationship.
Despite that, this will be a "summit of cooperation, not a summit of confrontation."