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Hard Nut to Crack

September 2, 2008

The EU's signal to Russia might seem harmless at first sight, but it's tougher than it looks, says DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

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At their emergency meeting on the Cacasus conflict, EU leaders decided to continue their negotiations with Russia about a partnership agreement only after Russian troops have been withdrawn from the Georgian heartland. Considering the sanctions against Russia that had been discussed and called for by some EU states ahead of the meeting, this decision seems like a relatively harmless reprimand. But it isn't.

It's a harsh and equally sensible reaction.

Ingo Mannteufel
Ingo Mannteufel

The EU's course of action is sensible, because the bloc has avoided escalating the charged atmosphere between Russia and Europe even further. Sanctions would have simply escalated the situation, which would have been harmful for Russia and Europe. The EU, in its entirety, did not continue the "war of words" waged by Georgia, Russia and some European countries.

But the EU's decision is also harsh, as heads of state and government basically presented Russian President Medvedev with the choice of burying a political partnership with the EU or suffering a serious setback domestically.

Russia has agreed to the six-point-plan as a ceasefire agreement, but it's not that easy for Medvedev -- according to his own logic -- to recognize Georgia's territorial integrity and pull back Russian troops that have moved into Georgia to behind the old front line.

The Russian population and especially the Russian military would not understand a withdrawal in light of the Kremlin's massive information campaign and a demonstratively displayed self-righteousness as far as the Russian actions are concerned.

The own propaganda is coming back to haunt them. An order to withdraw could be interpreted as a sign of weakness of the president, who was only elected a few months ago.

That's why this seemingly harmless decision by the Europeans is really a hard nut to crack for the Kremlin, which is now finding itself between a rock and a hard place.

The decision has shown that the EU -- despite its differences -- is capable to have a tough and smart Russia policy. For Russia, there's more at stake than simply an agreement with the Europeans on paper that doesn't blush.

President Medvedev has to decide now whether Russia wants to be the European Union's partner -- or not.

Ingo Mannteufel heads the Deutsche Welle's Russian online and radio departments (win).