Lithuania Refuses To Acquiesce in EU Negotiations with Russia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 220

The European Union announced the start of negotiations on a new, expanded partnership agreement with Russia at a summit in Nice on November 14. Following Russia’s invasion of Georgia and within days of threatening to target missiles at EU member countries allied to the United States, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was being welcomed as a “strategic partner-in-waiting” of the EU. Lithuania tried to redeem the integrity of EU policy, but it could only uphold its own.

The existing EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), signed in 1997, expired in 2007 but can be renewed at 12-month intervals as long as the EU deems it necessary. At its ill-starred summit with Russia in Khanti-Mansiisk on June 26 and 27 (see EDM, July 1, 2), the EU agreed to start negotiations on an upgraded agreement that Russia wants to be one of strategic partnership. At that summit the EU kept silent about Russia’s military threats to Georgia, although EU leaders had promised to raise that issue. Barely six weeks later, Russia invaded Georgia.

On September 1 an EU summit in Brussels decided to postpone negotiations on a new agreement until Russia had complied with the August 12 armistice (with the September 8 addenda), mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the EU’s behalf. Co-signed by Medvedev, the armistice commits Russia to withdraw its forces to the lines held prior to August 7 and allow international monitors into Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Instead, Moscow tore the armistice terms to shreds. It has poured additional forces into Abkhazia and South Ossetia; it is building permanent military bases there; it occupies additional areas (upper Kodori, Perevi, and Akhalgori) beyond those held before August 7; it has ethnically cleansed the Georgian populations, and it bars access to European Union and OSCE monitors.

France quickly headed for a face-saving exit from this situation and rejoined the German and Italian-led group of EU countries, eager to resume business as usual with Russia. As early as late October, Sarkozy and French Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner were speaking of Russia’s “overall compliance” with the armistice terms. Kouchner and the EU’s high foreign policy representative, Javier Solana, took this line publicly when meeting with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov in St. Petersburg. From that point on, Russia understood that its behavior in Georgia would have no repercussions on EU-Russia relations (see EDM, October 31).

Resisting such a travesty in the EU were Britain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Poland, and the three Baltic states; but the British position changed suddenly as Prime Minister Gordon Brown overruled Foreign Secretary David Miliband, siding with Sarkozy as part of building a Franco-British tandem on the financial crisis at the summit. Brown had hardly shown any interest in the Georgia issue in the first place (The Economist, November 7). After the British reversal, the resistance in the EU crumbled quickly, with Lithuania a lone holdout.

Writing in European Voice, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus warned, “Resuming the talks now [on partnership with Russia] would expose the EU’s weaknesses for all to see,” allowing Russia “once more to trample over European values” (European Voice, November 6).

Similarly, Lithuania’s influential Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Zygimantas Pavilionis cautioned the Germans and French that:

The French Presidency [of the EU] was making a serious, historic mistake. We are questioning the timing and we are questioning this U-turn in the EU’s position. Is it the right signal to send to Kyiv, to Moldova, even to the Baltic states today, that borders can be changed by military force? This is a way to legitimize occupation, and we are concerned about the powerful effects of this message to all neighboring countries and to Russia itself (DPA, November 10).
On November 10, however, the French line prevailed definitively at the EU’s meeting of ministers of foreign affairs. Kouchner claimed that Russia’s conduct on the ground in Georgia was satisfactory enough to warrant the resumption of partnership negotiations with Russia. For their part, Solana and External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner prevailed with the interpretation that the start of partnership negotiations with Russia would not require unanimous consent within the EU, inasmuch as the September 1 decision had merely “postponed” that start, rather than ruled it out. As Estonia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Umas Paet noted, however, this interpretation raised questions and could not be allowed to develop into a precedent within the EU (BNS, November 10).

The ministerial meeting seemed to ignore Georgian Prime Minister Grigol Mgaloblishvili’s appeal from Tbilisi: “Today to declare ‘mission accomplished’ and return to business as usual with Russia could encourage Russia to continue its aggressive actions against Georgia and Europe’s eastern neighborhood” (Civil Georgia, November 10).