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8 May, 2009 16:11

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, May 8

ROAR: Russian Opinion and Analytics Review, May 8

This Friday ROAR presents two different angles of the EU’s actions in the post-Soviet era, and a report from Washington on the hidden aspects of the Taliban problem.

VREMYA NOVOSTEI writes that yesterday’s Prague summit of the EU’s ‘Eastern Partnership’ program has become a declaration of the fact that the European Union has entered arenas in the post-Soviet era that Russia considers to be the natural sphere of its geopolitical interests.

The Joint Declaration signed in Prague, says the paper, defines the ‘Eastern Partnership’ as a program aiming to support political, social, and economic reform in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine in order to facilitate their closer relations and cooperation with the EU. The paper says Russia was not invited to the summit – and from now on it will have to take into consideration the existence of this new factor in its ‘Nearer Abroad,’ as the post-Soviet era is usually called in Russia.

The program was initiated by Poland and Sweden in late 2008, and supported by the rest of the EU members. During the initial period of the program, the EU is going to channel a modest 600 Million Euro in the sphere of financial support of its new Eastern partners. Liberalization of trade and customs procedures and fees are also high on the agenda, as well as signing visa waiver agreements in the long-term perspective.

For Russia, says the paper, it means that the ‘new Eastern partners’ of the EU are given the same conditions in cooperation with the EU which Russia itself has been trying to negotiate with the EU for a long time, as part of the Russia-EU strategic partnership – with no result. The paper quotes Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying that the declaration shows that someone is trying to put a choice to post-Soviet nations – to be either with Russia, or with the EU. The Minister urged European partners to concentrate on building a common space instead of drawing dividing lines on the map of Europe.

The head of the Russian Senate’s International affairs committee, Mikhail Margelov, is quoted by the paper as saying that the ‘Eastern partnership’ program looks like an alternative attempt of the West to drag former Soviet republics into its sphere of influence after the admission of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO has been postponed. In Moscow, says the paper, experts have been taking notice of the issues on the agenda of the summit which includes a discussion of the alternative oil and gas pipeline projects in Europe which would bypass Russia. The article concludes that this matter being on the agenda of the Prague summit deepens Moscow’s concern.

Another article in the same issue of VREMYA NOVOSTEI, written by Yury Shpakov in Berlin, says that the German business community responded to Russia’s concern over the EU’s Eastern partnership program with an attempt to explain its benefits for the post-Soviet era and Russia.

The Eastern Committee of the German Economy headed by Klaus Mangold prepared a document to that effect and presented it to VREMYA NOVOSTEI, says the paper. The document calls yesterday’s summit in Prague ‘an important signal’ of the interest of European business circles in the development of their cooperation with business people in the post-Soviet states. The document states that a program like the ‘Eastern partnership,' being realized two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and in times of a severe global economic crisis, only demonstrates that European integration does not end on the Eastern border of Poland.

The document also suggests that the countries involved in the program may become a communication and cooperation link between the EU, Russia, and Central Asia.

However, says the article, Klaus Mangold also finds several disturbing points in the documents of the program, which may lead to the emergence of ‘new front lines’ in Europe. As an example, he sites the matters of energy transit: at the summit in Prague, only the lines of transit bypassing Russia are being discussed, and Mangold considers it to be a mistake.

He suggests that Russia together with the EU should create an Energy Charter, adding that "without an agreement on a strategic partnership with Russia, containing a chapter on energy security, the Eastern partnership program will be incomplete."

In IZVESTIA, Malor Sturua writes about the tri-party negotiations between the presidents of the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan recently conducted in Washington. The author says that apart from the official documents signed and released to the media, the talks had an angle that could only be discovered by cross-reading interviews with the participants and articles in which officials had accidentally (or intentionally) loosened their tongues.

The first sign of trouble, says Sturua, were the critical notes aimed at his counterparts in president Obama’s speech summing up the results of the negotiations. Some critical expressions used later by Washington officials added to the picture. It seems, writes the author, that during the negotiations, the U.S. president strongly criticized the lack of enthusiasm in the fight against the Taliban and drug trafficking shown by his colleagues in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is well known, says Sturua, that the Pakistani armed forces were quite reluctant about fighting the Taliban, and joined the conflict only after insistent urgings from Washington. Now Pakistan assures president Obama that it is planning a major offensive against the Taliban. In Afghanistan, Washington believes the government is not active enough in its operations against drug traffickers and the Taliban. During the negotiations, the U.S. president most probably tried his best to persuade his counterparts that for them, working closely with NATO and US troops, coordinating all intelligence activities and military operations on both sides of the border is the only option, says the author.

Sturua writes that today it is not yet clear whether it worked or not, as the real results of the negotiations in Washington will be seen only weeks later, and only in the field – in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the atmosphere around the talks shows that further struggle against the Taliban and Al Qaeda falls mainly on the Americans' shoulders while neither Pakistan, nor Afghanistan or even U.S. NATO allies show any signs of enthusiasm.

Evgeny Belenkiy, RT