Divided EU prepares to review stand on Russia
Calls grew louder on Sunday for Russia to face greater international isolation because of its invasion and partition of Georgia as European leaders prepared for an emergency summit on the Caucasus crisis and to review the basis of the EU’s relations with Russia.
France’s President, Nicolas Sarkozy, the EU’s current president, who negotiated a ceasefire agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi, has convened the first EU emergency summit since February 2003 in the run-up to the Iraq war in order to concentrate the minds of leaders on their policies towards Moscow.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Sunday took a tough position, indicating that Russia’s membership of the G8 grouping of big industrial democracies could be frozen, an option that found some support from Germany.
France is worried that any tough action agreed by 27 European leaders at this afternoon’s summit in Brussels will provoke Russian retaliation and undermine its chances of playing the peacemaker.
Russia showed no signs of flinching on Sunday as President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow would sign deals providing military aid to Georgia’s breakaway provinces. Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, dared Europe to make the first move, telling Russian television: “If any of the European countries wants to serve someone’s narrow political interests, then go ahead.
We cannot stop them.
But we think, as they say in such cases, ‘You have to look out for number one’.”
Diplomats and analysts say the EU meeting, scheduled to last three hours, is unlikely to bring about any radical movement in Europe’s relations with Russia, but that temporary diplomatic penalties could be approved, such as having the G8 meet without Russia, or postponing talks between Brussels and Moscow on a new long-term strategic pact.
In an article in the Observer yesterday, Brown delivered his toughest message on Moscow to date, following last week’s broadside condemning Russian behaviour by the foreign secretary, David Miliband, in a speech in the Ukraine capital, Kiev.
“In the light of Russian actions, the EU should review—root and branch—our relationship with Russia,” said the prime minister. Russia’s unilateral action in recognising the independence of Georgia’s two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was “dangerous and unacceptable”. Brown said he had told the Russian president at the weekend to “expect a determined European response”.
A senior figure in the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic party also called for Russia’s membership of the G8 to be frozen. But divisions in the German government reflect the splits evident at the European level, with the Foreign Minister in Berlin, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, opposing action that risked escalating the crisis. “We need a strong and considered European role to return to reason and responsibility,” he said.
While Britain is more closely allied with the former communist countries of the Baltic and central Europe in supporting tough action, Germany, France, and Italy are more reluctant to penalise Russia.
Rather than sanctions against Russia, the summit is more likely to offer stronger support for Georgia in its conflict with Moscow, pledging reconstruction aid, easier visas for travel to Europe, greater trade and pledges on Georgia’s territorial integrity.
The summit is likely to open a longer process of rethinking European policies towards Russia. Officials in Brussels said a single meeting was unlikely to decide on “radical changes”.
The summit will demand that Moscow, too, restore respect for Georgia’s borders, meaning Moscow would need to take the highly unlikely step of reversing its recognition of the two breakaway regions.
On Sunday the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, said: “I expect that Europe won’t give up faced with this dirty attempt at aggression.”
Sarkozy’s letter to EU leaders said the meeting had to agree “a clear and united” message. “It’s up to Russia to make a fundamental choice in this respect,” he said.
At the heart of the issue lies Europe’s vulnerability, since it depends on Russia for a third of its oil and 40% of its gas. Brown warned that this addiction had to be broken. “We risk sleepwalking into an energy dependence on less stable or reliable partners,” he said. - guardian.co.uk