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2 Sep, 2008 14:39

EU split over Russia

The Foreign Ministry says it regrets the EU’s decision to suspend talks on a new partnership agreement with Russia. Moscow says the new deal is just as important to Europe as it is to Russia. The bloc has been split over

At Monday’s emergency summit in Brussels, EU leaders decided to halt talks on a new deal with Russia. The move was in response to Moscow’s role in the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. But according to some members of the European parliament, the summit showed that the union is anything but united.

Member of the European Parliament, Giulietto Chiesa, said that ‘a strange situation’ had occurred in the EU:

“The document states Russia made a disproportionate reaction while there is no mentioning of the attack from the Georgian side, so, we are talking about ‘disproportionate’ reaction, but against what? That was not even clear. It is not a good sign because it shows that Europe is not united”.

The EU has divided into two groups over the issue. On one side, Western European states – including France, Italy, Germany and Spain – are opposed to any harsh steps against Russia.

The French President Nicolas Sarkozy summed up their position:

“We don't want to embark upon a new Cold War where problems in relations between Russia and Europe can only be settled through military confrontation. We have to remain calm and cool-headed”.

On the other side, newcomers to the Union – including Poland and the Baltic countries, backed by Sweden and Great Britain – condemned the events and insisted that Moscow must be punished for its actions in South Ossetia.

John Laughland, an expert from the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in Paris, says the EU is hopelessly divided and therefore powerless.

“This is an organisation that has been struggling now for nearly ten years to elaborate a unified foreign policy. It’s precisely because they cannot agree on anything; they want to try and present a united front to the world on the situation with Russia, to make an impression that they are doing something, but in fact the EU is essentially powerless”.

The EU failed to agree on any concrete measures against Moscow. Many thought sanctions would be imposed, but they weren’t even mentioned.

The only practical outcome of the gathering is that a new partnership agreement with Europe and Russia to replace the one signed in 1997 has been suspended.

The Foreign Ministry says it isn’t happy with this, but says Europe should think about whether this delay is in its interests.

“We do have a lot of issues of mutual concern, and I believe that without being partners at the negotiating table on these issues we would not be contributing to the solutions of the problems,” said Andrey Nesterenko, Foreign Ministry spokesman.

But despite some potentially unpleasant consequences, there is a belief among Russian politicians that common sense has prevailed.

The Foreign Ministry said that despite the efforts of some European leaders to rock the boat, there’s still room for optimism.

Many experts agree that the biggest achievement of the EU talks is that European parliamentarians have agreed to go to Georgia. Then they’ll see with their own eyes what has been happening in the conflict zones.