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Moldova, Georgia Brace For Russian Retaliation After EU Pact


Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca (left) shakes hands with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton as European Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht looks on after Leanca initialed Moldova's Association Agreement with the EU.

Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca (left) shakes hands with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton as European Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht looks on after Leanca initialed Moldova's Association Agreement with the EU.

Georgian and Moldovan leaders were all smiles as they finished initialing their Association Agreements with the European Union, a key milestone in their bid for membership of the 28-nation bloc.

Despite the happy faces and handshakes, however, the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, deepened fears of harsh retaliation from Russia in both countries.

The Kremlin worked aggressively -- and successfully -- to prevent Ukraine from signing its own EU pact. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych walked away from the deal just days before its expected signature in Vilnius.

Hours after the November 29 initialing ceremony, Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca called on Moscow not to shut down the communication line with Chisinau.

"We hope to continue to have a good dialogue with our colleagues in Moscow, in the same way as I talked just recently with Russian Prime Minister [Dmitry] Medvedev, to discuss all the problems and try to find solutions," Leanca said.

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Marian Lupu, the speaker of Moldova's parliament and the country's former acting president, suggested that Moscow would wait until after the Sochi Winter Olympics in February to initiate retaliatory measures.

No 'Limited Sovereignty'

EU leaders in Vilnius lashed out at Russia for bullying Ukraine into shelving its landmark association deal with Europe in favor of closer ties with Moscow.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelachvili (left) with French President Francois Hollande at the EUs Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on November 29.

Georgian President Giorgi Margvelachvili (left) with French President Francois Hollande at the EUs Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius on November 29.


In unusually blunt terms, EU President Herman Van Rompuy said the bloc would "not give in to external pressure, not the least from Russia."

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso added that "the times for limited sovereignty are over in Europe."

Alexi Petriashvili, the Georgian minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, says such strong-worded statements suggest the European Union will do its best to shield both countries from possible Russian reprisals.

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"The readiness of the European Union to counter this pressure was addressed in statements made at the summit," Petriashvili tells RFE/RL in Vilnius. "It was very clearly stressed that no one has a right to put pressure on the independent, sovereign decisions of independent countries. In such cases, the EU, as a block but also as separate member states, will have a very clear and firm reaction, and show readiness for concrete steps in support of each [affected] country."

Russia's Toolbox

Russian sanctions could nonetheless have devastating effects on Georgia's and Moldova's still-fragile economies.

Russia is an important export market for both countries.

And while Georgian imports most of its natural gas from Azerbaijan, Moldova relies almost exclusively on gas from Russia -- which has been known to tighten the tap on its neighbors during politically sensitive times.

Moldovan Prime MInister Iurie Leanca (left) talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the European Union's Third Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on November 29.

Moldovan Prime MInister Iurie Leanca (left) talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the European Union's Third Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on November 29.

Moldovan political analyst Arkady Barbarossie says Russia has a multitude of levers at its disposal against Moldova.

"First of all, gas. Moldova depends 95-97 percent on Russian gas. The second instrument is the Russian market," Barbarossie says. "The embargo on Moldovan wines and some agricultural products imposed by the Kremlin in 2006, together with the embargo introduced by Russia this year, show that the Kremlin will not balk at using this lever. This could deal a severe blow to Moldova's economy."

Barbarossie says Russia may also choose to slap travel restrictions on Moldovan migrant workers, whose remittances account for one-third of Moldova's gross domestic product.

'Act Of Defiance'?

While chastising Moscow for bullying Ukraine, EU leaders in Vilnius also sought to soothe Moscow's concerns over their Eastern Partnership program with former Soviet countries.

Van Rompuy insisted that "this kind of agreement is also benefiting Russia, because the better the economies in the neighborhood of Russia are performing, the better it is for Russia."

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Barroso, in a thinly veiled reference to Moscow, said the EU pacts were "a process for something, not a process against someone."

In Moscow, however, such reassurances are likely to fall on deaf ears.

"This rhetoric against the Eastern Partnership fits very well into Russia's current conception of geopolitics, which is based on the assumption that Russia has no partners and allies and only opponents and enemies," says Andrei Okara, an analyst at the Moscow-based Center of Eastern European research. "In pro-Kremlin expert circles especially, the Eastern Partnership is viewed exclusively as an act of defiance toward Russia."

Andrei Shary of RFE/RL's Russian Service and Koba Liklikadze of RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report. RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak also contributed from Vilnius

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