October 26, 2007
EU and Russian leaders are meeting in Portugals Mafra today for a bilateral summit. The meeting is likely to make a step backward in EU-Russia relations. Before the last year’s summit the
parties hoped to launch talks on a new partnership and cooperation agreement. This time, the EU can no longer turn a blind eye to a bitter conflict between Russia and Poland and Baltic
states, and no one even dreams about the agreement anymore. European diplomats told Kommersant that this summit may as well have been cancelled if it wasnt for a long-standing tradition of EU-Russia meetings every six months.
Not a Partner but a Rival
Russia-EU summits are traditionally held in fall in a country which presides in the EU and in spring in Russia. This time Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,
Economic Development and Trade Minister Elvira Nabiullina and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko will travel to Mafra in Portugal, the EUs remotest country from Russia.
The previous summit was held in Helsinki, Finland, an EU country which is almost the closest to Russia. Indeed, Russia and the EU were much closer then. The parties hoped to announce
the start of talks on a new partnership deal. The Kremlin laid great hopes on the document and ever suggested calling it a strategic partnership treaty. Russia wanted it to include a prospect of
creating common economic space and a free trade zone later. The current framework agreement between Russia and Europe expires this year. The parties were therefore in a hurry to launch talks
to replace the old document. It all fell through as Poland vetoed the start of talks demanding that Moscow ratify the EU Energy Charter and lift the ban on Polish meat exports.
The EU and Russia has failed to get Poland withdraw the veto. What is more, differences between Russia and other European countries have multiplied in the past year. The new treaty
between Russia and Europe has simply slipped off the agenda. Moscow and Brussels will just prolong the old 1994 agreement, and there could be no talk about advancement in relations between Russia and the European Union.
The Financial Times obtained several EU internal papers prepared for EU governments ahead of the summit. One of them which was drafted back in July says that Russia is a strategic partner in
many areas of common interest, notably in the economic field, but in others such as involvement sin the post-Soviet space Russia is likely to remain a competitor or even opponent. The latest EU paper does not describe Russia as an opponent but notes that Russia is likely to be marked by an assertive foreign policy and tougher internal policies.
This is probably the weirdest Russia-EU summit in the recent time, a high-ranking EU official told Kommersant. Moscow and Brussels share a lot of argument and few common points, so its even
not clear how they could discuss cooperation. Itd logical to make a break, skip this summit and when problems get solved next year and elections are over in Russia we could start speaking about concrete matters. But nothing can be done: the tradition binds us to hold summits twice a year.
Russian authorities are obviously disappointed about the situation. Relations with the EU are crucial for President Putin. He did his best last year to launch talks on the partnership deal, and
he will surely recall his futile efforts and blame the EU for reluctance to start talks. Russian officials say off the record that a new deal is necessary as road maps on four common spaces are not legally binding and are restrictive. However, the four spaces are still on the summits agenda.
Not Druzhba but Nord Stream
However, a real rapprochement in relations and talks on the partnership deal are hampered not only by Polands hostility. The past year was marked with Russias chilled relations with several Eastern European nations which became a large-scale conflict that the EU cannot fail to notice. All old wounds broke open after the springs information war between Russia and Estonia. Officials in Mafra are not going to discuss the transfer of the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn or a cyber-attack on Estonian governmental servers, but there are plenty of problems to talk about, anyway.
President Putin wont lose a chance to blackwash Estonia and Latvia for infringing on the rights of Russian speakers in their countries. The Russian leader has recently accused the two countries authorities of fostering neo-Nazism, which Europe saw as a sign that the spring row is not over yet. Meanwhile, the Council of the European Union has recently decided to hold a conference within the next six months to consider crimes by totalitarian regimes during the Second World War and afterwards. Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania lobbied the conference which is aimed to condemn not only Fascism but also Communism, which Russian authorities may perceive as a challenge against them.
Baltic nations and Poland are not sending their representatives to the summit in Mafra. The Russian delegation is to hold talks with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, EU President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana. Last week, all 27 EU leaders met in Lisbon, and they surely expressed their dissatisfaction over the Kremlins policies.
Kommersants diplomatic sources report that EU leadership was instructed to ask Vladimir Putin why Russia suspended oil shipments to the Mazeikiu oil refinery and the Ventspilsport. ussian officials attribute the decision to near-disastrous state of some parts of the Druzhba pipeline. But Latvia and Lithuania are sure that the matter is strongly politically changed. Another issue oncerns a Russian-Estonian treaty on state border and delimitation of sea spaces in the Gulf of Finland and Narva as Moscow has withdrawn its signature from the document.
Another issue is a plan to build the Nord Stream gas pipeline at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Estonia in September officially declined to provide a part of the seabed for pipe laying. Poland is also active in fighting the pipeline plan. Some six months ago, it declared a territorial claim against Denmark over a part of the Baltic Sea south off Bornholm. Warsaw wants it to be declared Polands exclusive economic zone while it is now Denmarks exclusive economic zone. This is the place where Nord Streans pipe is to run.
The EU clearly has got no tools to help Russia, Poland and Baltic countries to settle their numerous disputes. But their great number guarantees that any sort of solid decision will be made at the summit.
Not Human Rights but Energy
Russia also has got certain problems with the European Union on the whole. Moscow was angry at a draft released on September 19 which maps out suggestions to liberalize EU electricity and gas
markets. The draft does not allow companies from other countries to gain control in Europes transport network unless it is stipulated by an agreement between the EU and a third countries.
This could be upset Gazproms plans to gain access to the energy networks. Under the draft, efore entering the European market Gazprom will have to split into a producing and transport
companies. However, talks between EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko made some progress. The parties hope that Mr. Piebalgs and Khristenko will sign in Mafra some kind of agreement with mutual concessions, which will be a real breakthrough as Russia and the EU have nothing else to agree on.
The summits agenda also features Kosovo, Georgia and Moldova, but there are no chances for the parties to find common ground on them. What is more, European diplomats told Kommersant the EU is ready to raise two more issues in Mafra. One of them is the Russian Dumas refusal to ratify Protocol 6 and 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights which abolishes death penalty and sanctions the reform of the European Court of Human Rights which is currently blocked by Russia. The second matter concerns the Litvinenko case which was long forgotten in Moscow. Portugal as the presiding nation in the EU has already issued a statement to express disappointment over Russias refusal to hand over chief suspect Andrey Lugovoy to Britain and underlined the EUs striving to solve the matter has common interest for all EU members.