MOSCOW AND BRUSSELS TRY TO MEND FENCES BUT SERIOUS PROBLEMS REMAIN
Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 94
On May 10, the 15th Russia-EU summit was held in Moscow. Coming immediately after the pompous celebrations of Victory Day in the Russian capital, the meeting resulted in the signing of a new partnership agreement aimed at forging closer economic, political, and cultural ties between Russia and the European Union. Noting the symbolic value of the accord, most international and Russian analysts argue, that Moscow and Brussels still have a long way to go to achieve full-blown and multi-dimensional cooperation.
At the Kremlin summit, Russian and EU leaders approved a strategic “road map” agreement on the building of four common spaces – economics, internal and external security, culture, and science. The non-binding accord actually constitutes a set of detailed instructions on mutual rapprochement, which – provided it is filled with concrete content, as some experts note — is destined to replace the outdated 1994 Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised the agreement as a step toward the creation of a European continent “with no dividing lines.” EU representatives, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, also expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the summit. But despite both sides’ efforts to mend fences after relations between Russia and the EU grew sour last year following the Kremlin’s heavy-handed behavior toward its CIS neighbors, the signed pact conspicuously falls short of the declared goal of fashioning the EU-Russia strategic partnership.
Even the very fact that for over a year Moscow and Brussels could not agree on signing the accord, some commentators say, suggests that the relations “are not particularly good at the moment.” Furthermore, having finally approved the “road maps” for the four common spaces, Russia and the EU failed to agree on what appears to be the most contentious set of issues – those dealing with visa regulations and the readmission of illegal migrants. Moscow badly wanted to get an agreement on visa-free travel for Russian citizens to the EU. But Brussels demanded that Russia agree to take back all illegal migrants who entered Europe from its territory. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov responded that his country “is not eager to turn its territory into a transit camp.”
Another important precondition for any progress on the visa issue is a mutually recognized border. But Russia failed to sign border treaties with Estonia and Latvia, and the Kremlin blamed the Baltic nations for the failure (See EDM, May 12).
In addition, some Moscow pundits argue that the so-called “new level of relations” reflected in the adopted road map accords is hardly in Russia’s correctly perceived national interests.
First, these analysts say, the “common spaces” contain a “huge conflict potential.” For example, Moscow was clearly unhappy about the EU’s intention to insert into the road map for external security mechanisms that would gradually increase the powerful bloc’s role within the post-Soviet space. Particularly troubling, from the Kremlin’s point of view, is Brussels’ growing desire to act as an arbiter in the settlement of the frozen conflicts in the former Soviet lands. Besides, Moscow is irritated by the EU’s reluctance to pressure the Baltic leaders on issues pertaining to the treatment of national (that is, Russian-speaking) minorities and to the interpretation of certain aspects of 20th century history. Significantly, the head of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev, argues that the EU, which is striving to become a leading economic power, would be much better served by pursuing a radical rapprochement with Russia, a country “capable of adding mightily to the bloc’s economic growth,” than by absorbing a number of relatively insignificant and seemingly Russophobic countries of Eastern Europe. However, the Russian lawmaker says, “It appears that Europe still cannot get rid of the logic of competition and is not ready for mutually beneficial cooperation.”
Some Russian experts also argue that the road map for the common economic space puts Russia in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis the EU. The blueprint, they contend, will create an “integration-without- membership” model. This model presupposes adapting many elements of Russian legislation, technical standards, and norms to meet European templates without giving Moscow a say in managing this legislation and set of standards. This would give the EU “powerful leverage on the Russian government,” the analysts warn.
The attitude of Russia’s policymaking and analytic community appears to betray both a lack of trust in the European partners and an awareness of the continuing erosion of Russia’s geopolitical influence. The current Russian wariness of the Western powers is tellingly reflected in a recent pronouncement by one expert at the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies who sincerely believes, “The disintegration or, at least, the utmost weakening of Russia remains for the West an objective of current interest.”
(Politcom.ru, May 6, 11; Moscow Times, Vremya novostei, Izvestiya, Vedomosti, Kommersant, Trud, Novye izvestiya, May 11)