Russia’s Foreign Ministry reacted positively yesterday to the European Union’s decision over the weekend to invite five former Communist countries (along with Cyprus) to become candidates for membership. Estonia was included among the five. The EU also gave pre-candidate status to an additional five eastern and central European states, including the other two former Soviet Baltic republics, Latvia and Lithuania. The first group was invited to begin membership negotiations with the EU in March of next year; those in the second group were encouraged to continue talks on possible membership with the EU. None of the candidate countries is expected to actually join the EU until at least 2000.
Russian Foreign Ministry press spokesman Sergei Nesterushkin welcomed the EU actions, depicting them as part of an objective tendency toward economic integration on the European continent. He was also careful to place them in the context of Russia’s own improving relations with the EU, which, Nesterushkin said, were reflected in an EU-Russian partnership agreement that came into force on December 1. (Russian agencies, December 15)
The position enunciated by Russia’s Foreign Ministry is not unexpected. Moscow has long seen an expanded EU as preferable to an expanded NATO, and has urged central and eastern European countries to pursue European integration by the former rather than the latter path. Moscow’s stance on the issue also fits with its increasingly open effort to encourage European solidarity — including ties between Russia and Europe — while seeking to undermine Washington’s influence on the continent. Moscow appears to have reconciled itself to possible membership by the Baltic countries in the EU by arguing that such a development would have a positive influence on the status of Russian-speakers in the Baltic countries. Nesterushkin made that same point again yesterday.
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