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EU to Evaluate Ties with Russia, Postpone Partnership Talks

At an emergency summit, the EU condemned Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and voted to postpone the next round of strategic partnership talks with Russia pending the withdrawal of troops.


The EU will examine carefully and deeply its relations with Russia

EU leaders gathering for an emergency summit in Brussels vowed to be "vigilant" in their ties with Russia. The European Union expects "Russia to act responsibly, in line with all its commitments," according to a statement released on Monday.

The bloc will "examine carefully and deeply the situation and the different dimensions of EU-Russia relations," the statement said. In the meantime, the next round of strategic partnership talks scheduled for Sept. 15 have been postponed.

Partnership talks postponed pending troop withdrawal

French President Sarkozy and EU Commissioner Barroso preside over the emergency summit on the Caucasus conflict.

French President Sarkozy and EU Commissioner Barroso

"As long as the withdrawal of (Russian) troops has not been respected, all meetings on the partnership accord are postponed," European Commission Presidnet Jose Manuel Barroso said at the conclusion of the summit.

The European Union and Russia had launched negotiations in July for the new strategic partnership pact, which aims to update and upgrade the framework for their relations in the energy sector and on trade. Currently, their relations are governed by a partnership accord that dates from 1997, when Russia was still suffering economically from the break-up of the Soviet Union.

"The EU would welcome a real partnership with Russia, which is in the interests of all, but you have to be two to have a partnership," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who currently heads the rotating EU presidency.

However, Russian officials have in the past been less than enthusiastic about the long-delayed pact. "We don't need these talks or this new agreement any more than the EU does," Russia's envoy to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told reporters.

EU re-examines Russian relations

The French leader told the press that a visit to Moscow Sept. 8 by himself, Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would be "crucial" for relations between the 27-nation bloc and Russia.

South Ossetian separatists wave a Kalashnikov and the South Ossetian flag, in in Tskhinvali

South Ossetian separatists wave a Kalashnikov and the South Ossetian flag, in in Tskhinvali

Sarkozy said Russia's "disproportionate use of force" and its recognition of Georgia's two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia meant the EU had no choice but to re-examine its relationship with Russia.

"It is clear that in the light of recent events, we cannot continue as if nothing has happened," Barroso said.

But the leaders decided against imposing any sanctions. Several member states, most notably Poland and the Baltics, had been pressing for punitive measures against Russia, whereas Great Britain had argued strongly to suspend the partnership talks.

"Let's not launch a Cold War. There's no need to flex our muscles. Demonstrations of force, verbal aggression, sanctions, counter-sanctions; these will not serve anyone," Sarkozy said.

EU condemns recognition of rebel Georgian regions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks on Sept. 1

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the West against supporting Georgia's leadership

At the start of the summit, EU leaders issued a strong condemnation of Russia for its recognition of independence for the two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"We appeal to other countries not to recognize their proclamation of independence," they said.

So far, Russia is the only country to have recognized the two regions as independent nations. And only Belarus and Venezuela have indicated they might do the same. However Russia's isolation has not stopped President Dmitry Medvedev from warning the EU that Moscow's decision to recognize the Georgian enclaves was "irrevocable."

Revived fears of a new Cold War

International condemnation has also not stopped Moscow from claiming the military intervention as an example of its return to the world stage.

Georgian honor guards bury soldiers killed during the Georgian-Russian war

Georgian honor guards bury soldiers killed during the Georgian-Russian war

"Russia has returned to the world stage as a responsible state which can defend its citizens," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow and added that the conflict in Georgia had set a new standard for defending Moscow's national interests.

The conflict between Georgia and Russia has revived fears of a new Cold War and has also highlighted deep divisions within the 27-member bloc. But Sarkozy stressed on Monday that the EU had shown that it was united. The president also insisted that the EU should continue to hold dialogue with, rather than isolate, Moscow.

"We condemn the disproportionate reaction of the Russians and we are aware of our responsibilities in keeping dialogue with our Russian partner on the rails," Sarkozy said.

"We are also aware of the expectations on the Georgian side and we will not disappoint them," he added.

On top of providing humanitarian and economic aid, the EU is getting ready to boost its civilian mission, which currently compromises about 40 people, Solana said. He also said the EU was planning to send hundreds of observers to Georgia to verify if Moscow is implementing the ceasefire agreement.

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