BRUSSELS -- Russia's drive for recognition as one of the world's major powers took a long step forward as the EU's French presidency publicly backed President Dmitry Medvedev's call for a new "security architecture" for Europe.
At the postsummit press conference, its French host, President Nicolas Sarkozy, spent relatively little time criticizing Russian actions in Georgia. He appeared much keener to look ahead and speculate about ways in which the Russian-Georgian conflict could lead to changes in the existing pan-European security arrangements.
Unprompted, Sarkozy threw his weight behind Medvedev's proposal for a new European "security architecture" and said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should convene a summit in mid-2009 to discuss the idea. In doing so, the French president came close to suggesting he is less worried about Moscow's designs than U.S. strategy and tactics in Europe.
"We could then lay the groundwork for what could be the basis of an agreement between us [all], as long as we don't talk about missile shields that will not lead to security, that will complicate matters, and that will render [security] more remote," Sarkozy said.
Returning to the theme in a different context, Sarkozy spoke of "some of Georgia's friends" whose "military ships in a nearby sea" and its "missiles, shields, and soldiers" had not proven nearly as effective as the EU's mediation and commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts.
Medvedev thanked Sarkozy for the EU's support, maintaining that his recent decision to deploy new Iskander missiles came as a response to other countries "unilateral" encroachment on Russia's security.
"Before signing a global accord on European security, we should all avoid unilateral measures that affect this security," Medvedev said.
"Russia for its part has never taken such steps unilaterally. All those decisions that we have made, including the ones I put forward just recently, are a response to the actions of certain European countries that, without consulting anyone, essentially agreed to deploy new [military] capabilities on their territory."
Medvedev has repeatedly said his plans are aimed at ending U.S. and NATO dominance in Europe.
Sarkozy said that "an immense majority" of EU member states supports the French stance. This contradicts a statement made by a senior EU official in Brussels earlier this week who said the bloc's member states had not yet had a chance to formulate a joint position to Medvedev's proposals. All EU foreign-policy decisions must be unanimous.
France will hand over the rotating EU Presidency to the Czech Republic on January 1, 2009. It is likely that closer U.S. allies in the EU will quietly block aspects of the new Medvedev-Sarkozy plan that could undermine NATO or Washington's presence in Europe. But the French president's comments will serve as a reminder that there are powerful forces within the EU interested in an accommodation with Moscow.
Sarkozy also revisited his idea of creating a fully shared "economic space" between Russia and the EU, first mooted in a speech in September.
"I remain convinced that we all -- the Russian Federation and Europe -- have an interest in working toward a common economic space, which would allow the creation of interdependencies, and would definitively rule out all forms of confrontation -- because they would undermine common interests," Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy said that he had asked Medvedev in this context to demonstrate "openness" in the coming winter toward the Baltic countries and especially Lithuania, which will need to close down its Ignalina nuclear power station as part of its accession deal with the EU. Sarkozy said Medvedev had been amenable to the idea of supplying energy to Lithuania and other Baltic countries in the coming years
These remarks will be read in the Baltic countries as a warning and a reminder that their attempts to obstruct EU-Russia relations will be self-defeating. Lithuania in particular has in recent months twice resorted to a veto to try and put the brakes on EU-Russia cooperation.
Georgia was relegated to the status of a largely ritual sideshow at the summit. Sarkozy reiterated the EU's condemnation of Russia's decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and its support for Georgia's territorial integrity. Medvedev for his part said Moscow will not reverse its decision, and that it recognizes Georgia's territorial integrity without Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are now "subjects of international law."
The French president said, however, that Medvedev had promised to devote "all efforts" to resolving the problem of the Alkhagori region and Perevi village in South Ossetia, both of which had been under Georgian control before the conflict in August.
EU and Russian leaders said they are in "almost complete" agreement over measures to stabilize the world economy. Both sides were scheduled to board flights to the United States later to attend a summit of major global economies in Washington on November 15.