The European Commission wants EU member states to revive partnership talks with Moscow, which have been frozen since the brief and sudden war with Georgia this summer. The commission on Wednesday released a "review" of European relations with Russia and called for an agreement on talks as early as this Monday, when the EU's 27 foreign ministers gather in Brussels for their monthly meeting.
But the call -- awkwardly -- came as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to place short-range missiles in Russia's eastern European enclave of Kaliningrad, between Lithuania and Poland, to counter a US- and NATO-planned "missile shield."
The commission was anxious to portray resumed talks as a strategic advantage for Europe, not a gift to Russia. "This does not mean business as usual," said External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, "because we cannot accept the status quo in Georgia."
But eastern members of the EU objected. Two days before the commission's report, leaders of Lithuania and Poland had said Moscow was not living up to commitments in Georgia and therefore had not earned new talks. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and his Polish counterpart Lech Kaczynski said in a joint statement they were "deeply concerned with the lack of will on the Russian side."
Moscow's promise on Wednesday to counter the planned western missile shield with Russian emplacements in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad threw a wrench into the European Commission's hope for easier relations. The announcement by President Dmitry Medvedev was widely seen as a deliberate challenge to US President-elect Barack Obama.
But the European Commission on Wednesday argued for revived talks with Russia for two reasons: "First because this would allow the EU to pursue its own interests with Russia, and secondly because this is the best way to engage with Russia on the basis of a unified position," according to a statement released by Brussels.
Russia is known to resent the spread of EU and NATO influence into its Cold War-era "sphere of influence." But a number of European member states rely on Russia for oil and natural gas. In fact Russia is the EU's third largest trading partner, so Europe has a motivation to keep Moscow happy.
"There is certainly a part of the (EU) block that would like to get back to business as usual as soon as possible," said Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves in an interview earlier this week with SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But the invasion (of Georgia) shows that the (so-called) silent accord from 1991 is now off the table. The accord stated that Russia could do whatever it wanted within its own borders -- even if it meant bombing Chechnya -- and that people beyond its borders could make their own decisions. That is no longer the case."
Post-Soviet members of the EU see Russia's military involvement in Georgia last summer as a taste of things to come in other countries with Russian populations, Estonia and Ukraine included. These eastern states want the EU to use its leverage as a consumer of Russian oil and gas to demand better behavior from Moscow.
Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner on Wednesday -- after the Russian missile announcement -- seemed to agree.
"If you are going to put missiles in Kaliningrad that is not going to increase security in Europe," she said to the EU parliament's foreign affairs committee. "I wonder how such steps are compatible with the new European security strategy that Russia wants."
msm -- with wire reports