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EU: Analysis From Washington -- Europe Angry At Russian Actions

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 29 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- European anger at Moscow's policies in Chechnya and Yugoslavia suggests that today's summit between European Union leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not produce the breakthrough agreements many on both sides had expected.

But the likelihood of such an outcome does not mean that the meeting will be a failure for either side. Instead, this development highlights the increasing importance and independence of the European Union, something both the EU and Moscow have long sought.

As part of their effort to raise the profile of the European Union and to demonstrate its ability to pursue a collective foreign policy more independent of the United States, EU leaders had looked forward to the meeting in Moscow as a chance to expand trade and political ties with the Russian Federation.

But Russian actions in Chechnya, and more recently Moscow's hosting of Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, who has been indicted for war crimes, have raised doubts about progress on this agenda.

In an article published in Friday's "Izvestiya," the EU's foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana said European leaders consider it "a moral duty to protest against the fact that innocent people are suffering" as a result of Russian counterinsurgency actions in Chechnya.

And other European diplomats said last week that their governments were concerned that Moscow's reception of Odjanic reduces the pressure on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at a time when the EU wants him "to be made to feel more isolated." That issue too will be on today's agenda, these officials said, even though Russian officials have apologized for allowing this meeting.

As a result of both these actions, one European diplomat pointedly said, the EU governments now "feel the Russians are not behaving the way they should," a conclusion that he said is generating "a feeling of malaise" over the future of the EU's relationship with Moscow.

At the same time, the Russian government appears to feel equally unhappy with what for it is a somewhat unexpected turn of events. Continuing a longtime Moscow goal of trying to separate Western Europe from the United States, the Russian president has lavished attention on Europeans, such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, clearly hoping to gain sympathy and support.

But that has not happened. Indeed, the EU's toughness on Chechnya and Yugoslavia not only reduce the chances for the kind of outcome Putin and the EU had wanted from this meeting, but may also have the effect of restricting the chances still further for progress at Putin's upcoming summit meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton.

On the one hand, a less than fully successful meeting with the Europeans may make Putin even more unwilling to reach accords with Washington. After all, doing so after a tough meeting with the Europeans would reduce Moscow's chances of winning their support on issues where the EU disagrees with the United States.

And on the other hand, Clinton likely will be less willing to make concessions to Putin after the Europeans have maintained a tough line on issues such as Yugoslavia, where the U.S. and the EU generally have been in agreement and where Washington clearly wants to maintain a common front.

These immediate consequences of the EU-Russia summit are likely to attract the most attention this week, but there are three longer-term ones that may make this meeting a turning point in international relations even if the two sides are unable to reach the agreements they had hoped for.

First, this meeting demonstrates that the EU can act in a far more disciplined and unified fashion on foreign policy questions than many had thought. Second, it shows that Solana, who earlier served as NATO secretary general, is able to serve as the point man for such an approach.

And third, the meeting underscores the increasing independence of European foreign policy, not only from the United States but from Russia as well.