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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

EU Wakes Up and Gets Tough on Russia

Reuters reports that the EU is beginning to realize its peril where Russia is concerned, and beginning to act accordingly:

The European Union must be tougher in its dealings with a newly assertive Russia during the final months of President Vladimir Putin's rule, EU foreign ministers said. "We want a constructive relationship with Russia, but we want responsibility shown by Russia," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said after EU ministers discussed Russian ties at a meeting Friday in the Portuguese coastal town of Viana do Castelo. "People wanted to be firm but not macho," he told reporters.

The EU could play a decisive role in ensuring that Russia wins cherished membership in the World Trade Organization before Putin leaves office early next year, but in return it should insist that Moscow behave more responsibly, ministers said. The West is at loggerheads with Russia on issues such as its opposition to a UN-backed independence plan for the Serbian province of Kosovo. It has also rattled nerves by restarting patrols of long-range bombers. "There was widespread concern about a deterioration in Russian behavior," a British official said of the debate. Several EU states were dismayed that the bloc did not censure Moscow over a Russian missile that fell on Georgian soil last month. Moscow has called Georgian accusations that the missile was dropped by a Russian jet "a stunt."

"We failed to address this and tell Russia what our position was on this," Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks said. "This systematic slowness is because we cannot agree a common approach as we try to make the best deals on a national level. This makes the EU vulnerable."

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said it was paradoxical that while EU-Russian trade was growing at 20 percent a year, the EU had "increasing questions" about human rights and democracy in Russia. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said the EU should look to better use its political and economic power, notably in supporting Moscow's efforts to win WTO entry by the end of the year, as part of a firmly pragmatic relationship with Russia. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the EU, which will hold its final summit with Putin late next month, could help him secure WTO membership, but Poland warned it could stand in the way until a knotty trade dispute had been resolved. "For us, the embargo is a serious matter," Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said of a 21-month ban by Moscow on Polish meat products over concerns about poor quality, which Warsaw disputes.

On Kosovo, the foreign ministers vowed to seek a united front on the fate of Kosovo, despite differences among themselves. "I cannot conceive that we could have at the end a situation where there is a strong position of Russia, a strong position of the United States, and where Europe simply does not exist," said Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency and so must forge consensus in coming months.

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