Thursday, May 01, 2008


The European Union and Russia

Divide, rule or waffle

May 1st 2008
From The Economist print edition

The European Union cannot agree over how to deal with Russia. That suits the Kremlin just fine

SEEN from outside, one might imagine that the European Union (population 495m, GDP of $16.8 trillion) was a rather intimidating neighbour for Russia (population 142m, GDP of $1.3 trillion). Yet the reality is the other way round. In recent years Russia has played a canny game of divide and rule against the EU, building cosy bilateral relations with Germany and Italy especially, but also with Austria, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Greece.

That makes other countries, and many Eurocrats, uneasy. They would like the EU to bargain more effectively with Russia, particularly over energy. But how? For now, the relationship is based on an outdated partnership and co-operation agreement (PCA), signed in 1997. Talks on renewing it are long overdue. But they show no sign of starting. Last year the obstacle was a Polish veto, prompted by a Russian embargo on Polish meat exports. But that was resolved after a charm offensive by Radek Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister, who was once a notable hawk on Russia.

Now talks on a new PCA are stymied again, this time because of a veto by Lithuania. The Lithuanians argue that the previously agreed negotiating position is too soft and too limited, given what they see as Russia's slide towards autocracy at home and aggression abroad. An EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg on April 29th ended in deadlock (though it did sign a deal that may clear the way for Serbia, a country wobbling into Russia's orbit, to become a candidate for membership).

Other EU countries are cross with the Lithuanians, accusing them of belated and clumsy diplomacy, and of posturing with an eye to a general election this autumn, in which the ruling coalition is lagging behind pro-Russian parties. The Poles, who agreed to drop their veto of a new PCA in return for a lifting of the meat ban, say they must honour their side of the deal they struck with Russia. Many west European countries also hope that the arrival of Dmitry Medvedev as Russian president could be a chance to put their relationship on a friendlier footing. In any case, the previous negotiating mandate has already been adapted to reflect, at least partly, Lithuania's desire for stronger language on energy (Russia has blocked an oil pipeline to Lithuania's refinery since 1996, claiming that it needs “repairs”).

Yet the Lithuanians want more. They demand explicit mention of Russia's relations with such neighbours as Georgia, citing the Kremlin's increasingly strong support for the breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This week the Russians claimed Georgia was planning to invade Abkhazia and said they would boost their peacekeeping forces, promising to respond forcefully to any Georgian attack. The Georgians have retaliated by threatening to block Russia's application to join the World Trade Organisation. The Lithuanians see all this as an ominous threat to their own security. “We are in the front line. If Georgia goes, we are next,” argues a Lithuanian official.

The Lithuanians also want the EU to be tougher over justice. In particular, they complain that the Kremlin is not helping track down those responsible for a Soviet-backed attempted putsch in Lithuania in early 1991 that killed 14 people and for the execution of eight border guards shortly afterwards. “We have had 22 Litvinenkos and no co-operation from Russia,” says the official. His irritation may be understandable (Britain is also furious with the Kremlin for refusing to co-operate over the murder of a Russian exile with British citizenship, Alexander Litvinenko, in London in 2006). But an unwillingness from Russia to investigate such crimes is nothing new, and is therefore harder to portray as a sinister new twist.

Diplomats still hope to launch negotiations on a new PCA before the next EU-Russia summit in Siberia in June. Reopening discussion on the negotiating mandate may not help Lithuania: some countries want it to be softer, not tougher, says one foreign minister. And none of this seems to bother the Russians much. Their ambassador in Brussels, Vladimir Chizov, says his country would be delighted to deal with the EU if only it would decide what it actually wants. The impasse also makes it easier for national governments to justify doing bilateral deals with Russia. Italy made a barely veiled threat along these lines this week. Greece chose the same day formally to sign up to South Stream, a Kremlin-backed Black Sea pipeline that many see as a direct rival to the EU's own plans in the region. The outgoing Italian prime minister and former European Commission president, Romano Prodi, also said he had turned down (for now, at least) a Russian offer to head the South Stream consortium.

In practice a new PCA is unlikely to make much difference. Despite the obsolescence of the old one, trade between Russia and the EU has more than tripled since 2000. In negotiating a new one, Russia would, on past form, use its bilateral ties with big countries to get its way in what ought to be multilateral negotiations. And it is not clear that any new agreement will stick. Russia has explicitly said that it will not ratify the energy charter it signed in 1994, which would have required it to give third parties access to its gas pipelines. As Katinka Barysch, of the London-based Centre for European Reform, notes drily, “the Russians have a somewhat different approach to law, so whether you can aim to solve all problems with a legal document is open to doubt.”


Colleen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colleen said...

Just FYI, if you look at the members of the EU, there are more cooperating Russia, like Italy, than not:

Totally cooperating with Russia, energy deals, pipelines, etc. - Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain

Mostly not-cooperating with Russia - Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, UK

Mostly neutral (6 of the 8 here are even slightly positive) - Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden

If the EU one day decides that it must have united policy toward with Russia and it comes down to a vote, the new united EU policy will be like Italy's policy toward Russia.

The hawks just don't have the votes to push through a tough Russia policy and calling for unity might backfire completely.

Giustino said...

I think the EU’s Russia policy, or lack thereof, is just one symptom of the larger problem of indecision in most European countries today. Have you noticed that among countries that are ‘friendly’ to Russia and ‘unfriendly’ there are few strong governments?

‘Friendly’ Kosovo-recognizing Germany is weak. The indecisive 2005 elections left us with a “grand” (terrible) coalition of CDU and the Social Democrats.

In ‘friendly’ Hungary, Ferenc Gyurcsany has been tied up by (sometimes) violent opposition during the majority of his time as prime minister.

How about Italy? We’ve gone from one septuagenarian to another. Do you really think that Silvio Berlusconi is leading his country anywhere? And Let’s not even get started on Gordon Brown.

In the Nordic region, most governing parties are in precarious power sharing agreements. In Estonia, the liberals, conservatives, and social democrats are the coalition! There are four, different parties in Reinfeldt’s “Alliance for Sweden”. And Finland was too focused on its former foreign minister’s textcapades recently to think about Russia.

Europe needs some fresh elections to sort this mess out. Then it can talk about Russia.

Paul said...

I doubt whether elections will make much of a difference. It seems to me that this Russia problem is emblematic of the problem with EU foreign policy in a larger sense. That is, that it doesn't really exist. Foreign Policy is still one area where convergence has stalled. Yes, because of its Nationalist flavor, but also because of the lack of clear win-wins that result in compromise. With the continued rise of interdependence on trade, the resulting stiffing of the intertwining of economics and foreign policy, failure to succeed now bodes poorly for further EU Foreign Policy convergence.

Giustino said...

But Paul, how could Germany, which seems to be the 'tone setter' for EU foreign policy, even have a Russia policy when its coalition members can't agree?

Richard said...

The problem is that the EU is merely an infant on the international stage. 5 years ago, the EU was not a diplomatic player of any influence. It now wants to bem but it is sufering from major birth pangs.

One angle is that the EU was sold to the 2003 wave of new members as having a single international voice, and that joining would make thew weak CEE countires part of this powerful voice.

However, the EU is very immature in terms of foreign policy, mainly becuase all the old members, accompanied by new members, have their own welll-established international agendas, which clash with Brussels' own policy agenda.

Tomas said...

Well done Lithuania! I think Britain should support Lithuania on this one, due to shared freedom and peace in the future.

Giorgius said...

Slovenia is threatening to Lithuania (big european fatties probably in realitu!)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Report: Slovenia Ties Georgia Visit to Lithuania's EU-Russia Veto

EU president Slovenia warned Saturday, May 10, it could skip a five-nation foreign ministers' mission to Georgia that aims to cool tensions with Russia, unless Lithuania drops its veto on separate EU-Russia talks.

Citing a Lithuanian foreign ministry source, the Baltic News Service (BNS) said Slovenia, which holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation EU, had used a new bargaining tactic to try to get Vilnius, a staunch ally of Georgia, to approve the launch of negotiations on a new EU-Russia partnership pact.

"How such a trade can be offered?" asked the ministry source, who BNS said had spoken on condition of anonymity.

"It is difficult to understand whether Slovenia, which presides over the EU, is expressing the attitude of the EU towards Georgia, or whether it is just an inapt proposal by Slovenia in an attempt to force Lithuania to withdraw its justified demands in the discussions on the mandate for the EU talks with Russia on the strategic partnership," the source said.

EU Presidency refuses to comment on report

Lithuanian foreign ministry spokeswoman Violeta Gaizauskaite would not comment on Slovenia's alleged ultimatum, but said Vilnius would not change tack.

"The plans for the mission to Georgia have not changed. Lithuania's Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas is due to go to Georgia on Monday and he hopes the four other ministers will join him," Gaizauskaite told reporters.

"The Lithuanian position has not changed (on the EU-Russia talks). We will discuss all these issues Sunday in Vilnius," she added.

Last month, Vilnius unilaterally blocked attempts to kick off EU-Russia talks, demanding that a number of sensitive issues, including energy security and relations with Georgia, be included in the EU negotiating mandate.

Lithuania, which joined the EU in 2004, 13 years after breaking free from the crumbling communist bloc, is a strong supporter of fellow ex-Soviet republic Georgia.

Escalating tensions with Russia

Tensions have been mounting over the Georgian separatist region of Abkhazia, where Russia -- seen as backing the separatists -- has military forces.

They reached new heights Thursday as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili warned of a risk of war with Russia.

Foreign ministers from five EU member state -- Slovenia, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia -- are expected to travel to Tbilisi to try to mediate between Georgia and Russia.

The ministers are scheduled to assemble in Vilnius on Sunday and leave for Georgia on Monday.

The EU is hoping talks with Russia on the pact -- which is meant to keep relations between the EU and Moscow on an even keel -- can be launched at an EU-Russia summit in Siberia on June 26-27.

The mandate for EU talks with Russia is to be discussed at the next EU foreign ministers' meeting on May 26, where the pressure on Lithuania to give way is likely to be high.

All of the EU's 27 members must approve the start of negotiations with non-member states.