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EU, Russia at Odds

DW staff (nda)October 16, 2006

The EU and Russia will tackle a number of hot topics such as energy and human rights over the next week in a series of meetings which could define the relationship between the two powers for the foreseeable future.

Russia and the EU will tackle a number of issues this week which are coming to a headImage: AP

EU foreign ministers will this week consider using unusually stern language against Russia over its treatment of Georgians, while hoping for Moscow's cooperation in some of the most pressing international issues, including Iran and North Korea.

A draft resolution on the Russia-Georgia problem, drawn up ahead of a two-day EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg which opens on Monday, pulls few punches.

The 25 EU member nations express their "grave concern at the measures adopted by the Russian Federation against Georgia and at their economic, political and humanitarian consequences," in the draft resolution released to media outlets ahead of the meeting.

They further urge Moscow "not to pursue measures targeting Georgians in the Russian Federation," while calling on both parties "to work towards a normalization of relations."

Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi escalated recently with Georgia's arrest of four Russian officers it accused of spying and have remained acute despite Georgia's release of the men.

Georgien Russland Polizei in Tiflis Passkontrolle
The situation with Georgia concerns the EUImage: AP

Moscow ordered the total rupture of ties with its Caucasian neighbor and former satellite, spelling trouble for Georgian businessmen, and workers in Russia.

As with the whole raft of issues which the EU 25 will discuss in Luxembourg, the draft resolution could yet be altered before or during the meeting.

Possible clash over Georgia; Iran movement unlikely

The resolution on Iran is less likely to be subject to last-minute tinkering, European diplomats said, with the EU more or less throwing in the towel and handing the dossier over Tehran's nuclear ambitions to the UN Security Council.

EU nations now believe that "Iran's continuation of enrichment-related activities has left the EU no choice" but to throw the issue back to the United Nations. The EU conclusions on Iran express "deep concern" that Iran has not yet suspended its enrichment-related and reprocessing activities as required by the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, and a Security Council resolution.

On Saturday, Iran was making friendlier noises, saying that a year-old offer from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for foreign countries to handle its uranium enrichment activities still stands as a way to break the deadlock over its nuclear program.

Some observers see Russia's increasing global role, notably in the Iran and North Korea issues, as affording it more leeway over Georgia.

Balancing own needs with Russia's influence

Gasstreit zwischen Rußland und Ukraine beigelegt
Russian energy power is a major trump cardImage: AP

The EU "needs Russia on a lot of issues; North Korea, Iran, Kosovo, energy," said Antonio Missiroli, an analyst at the European Policy Center.

And it is not just the European Union which is seen as walking a very narrow diplomatic tightrope. The United States' decision to approve a UN Security Council resolution on Georgia that reflects Russian concerns is a concession to Moscow aimed at winning cooperation on North Korea, a Russian newspaper said Saturday.

Russian newspaper Kommersant drew a direct link between wrangling at the UN over North Korea and Friday's resolution on ex-Soviet Georgia, which urged Tbilisi to withdraw troops, perceived as threatening the breakaway province of Abkhazia and also extended the mandate of a UN mission in Georgia.

A European diplomat argued that the EU draft resolution on Georgia-Russia prepared for the EU ministers meeting is "unusually harsh."

It could yet be toned down at the last minute, in line with the EU's Finnish presidency's wish to make moves towards Moscow, several diplomats said.

The inter-knitting of issues also leads to the southern Serbian province of Kosovo. The Russians have already said that independence for Kosovo could be used as an argument for the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Energy a sore point for both powers

Wladimir Putin gibt PK in Den Haag
Putin is tiring of the EU's stance on energyImage: dpa

The ghost at the banqueting table will be very much present when Russian President Vladimir Putin is a dinner guest of European leaders during an informal EU summit in Lahti, Finland on Friday. Since the invitation was issued earlier this year, fears have grown of rising Russian muscle-flexing.

The West also knows that Moscow can play a very strong energy card. The clearest example of this came when Russia cut gas to western neighbor Ukraine on Jan. 1 during a price dispute, with knock-on effects further west.

If EU member states, and former Soviet satellites, such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Baltic nations want the EU to confront Putin over human rights, then "most of the big European capitals think it is not necessary to raise internal questions publicly, and not in the name of the EU, but bilaterally," Missiroli said.

Politkovskaya murder to be raised

Getötete Journalistin Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya's murder shocked the worldImage: AP

There is likely to be more friction when the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso urges Putin to ensure that those who murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya are prosecuted. Barroso said Sunday that he would push for an investigation and added that Moscow's "credibility" was at stake.

"We want those who have assassinated Mrs. Politkovskaya -- a great fighter for freedom of expression -- we want them to be brought to justice," Barroso said. "It's a question of credibility of the Russian government ... to show that they are able to bring to justice those who make those hideous crimes.

"We have an interest in having good relations with Russia, but I believe Russia also has an interest in having good relations with the European Union," Barroso added.