EU pins hopes on Sarkozy’s trip to Moscow

French president Nicholas Sarkozy is flying to Moscow and Tbilisi next week to assess the implementation of a six-point ceasefire signed by Russia and Georgia. On Saturday, the EU’s 27 foreign ministers met in France to

The EU says it’s determined to maintain friendly relations with Russia despite the tension created by the conflict in South Ossetia. The statement was made at a meeting of European foreign ministers in the French city of Avignon. The union is also calling on Russia and Georgia to abide by the EU-brokered ceasefire agreement.

The EU ministers were not expected to make any landmark decisions at the Avignon meeting. But the informal talks have brought agreement on certain issues, particularly Europe’s involvement in resolving the stand-off over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

To watch the full media conference of the EU foreign ministers, please follow the link.

The ministers agree that strengthening humanitarian aid is one of the most important questions, although they say that damage to the region is not as great as first feared.

“We are in the course of deciding how much we can give,” said European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner. “We were the first to offer humanitarian aid. We have given 15 million Euros. We also want to contribute to the reconstruction of Georgia, we’ve sent an extra mission to the region already”.

The EU members want to see an international investigation into the roots of the conflict. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that all 27 members are in favour of an international inquiry.

The EU understands that to do anything in the region it will need to get Russia’s backing. The ministers have once again confirmed they want to maintain dialogue with Russia, both short term and long term. They say punitive measures are not appropriate.

“Sanctions is not our word,” Kouchner said. “We must find understanding, we must find a way to solve particular problems. Do you believe that sanctions can help, and what kind of sanctions would be efficient? Diplomacy and politics are not only made of sanctions.”

The meeting confirmed what had been said at the European leaders’ extraordinary summit in Brussels: that the EU expects Russia to respect its commitments under the six-point plan. The French Foreign Minister says the Union is hoping for more progress on Monday.

“We decided that on Monday a meeting will be held to assess progress on the six-point agreement of which at most three have been implemented so far. We support this contact and very much look forward to the meetings in Moscow and Tbilisi,” Kouchner noted.

French president Nicholas Sarkozy is flying to Moscow and Tbilisi next week, where he is expected to assess the implementation of the six-point ceasefire. The agreement, signed by Russia and Georgia, includes commitments to withdraw troops to their pre-conflict positions.