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EU: Brussels Warns Russia Of 'Grave Impact' On Relations In Enlargement Dispute

European Union foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels today, where they are expected to adopt a statement that says EU-Russia relations will suffer "grave" damage if Moscow does not extend its current partnership treaty with the bloc to the 10 new member states. The EU says the extension must happen without preconditions, although it acknowledges certain "legitimate" Russian concerns.

Brussels, 23 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The draft statement to be debated today by EU foreign ministers -- seen by RFE/RL -- makes it clear that Moscow must accept enlargement or face serious consequences.

The draft was approved last week by all current and future EU member states and is likely to be approved without change.

The document says the bloc's current Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (PCA) with Russia is the "essential cornerstone" of bilateral relations. The agreement must be extended to the 10 new member states on 1 May without preconditions or any distinction among the accession countries. Failure to do so by Moscow will result in what the document calls a "grave impact on relations overall."

Although the EU accepts there are certain "legitimate" Russian concerns over enlargement, discussion of those concerns must remain entirely separate.

Diego de Ojeda is the European Commission's spokesman on external affairs. He tells RFE/RL that extension of the PCA by Russia is part of a wider routine exercise of adjusting the EU's relations with the outside world to take account of enlargement.

"We're having ongoing discussions with Russia on the modalities to extend the PCA to all new member states. We're not negotiating. This is a matter of routine that we're doing with other countries, as well. In parallel to that, Russia has some concerns on EU enlargement. We're also discussing those, separately. These issues are not linked. We're hopeful that Russians are equally aware, as we are, of the need to make sure that the PCA extension will be secured without trouble," de Ojeda said.

Russia is so far the only non-EU country to express serious reservations. Last month, it presented the EU with a list of 14 core demands. Internal EU documentation -- seen by RFE/RL -- indicates the bloc sees little problem in accepting Russia's request for an increase in steel and grain import quotas after enlargement. Russia's worries over agricultural restrictions and health standards are generally seen as exaggerated. Certain transitional arrangements are said to be possible in allowing the continuation of flights involving "noisy" Russian aircraft. Arrangements concerning access and energy provisions to Kaliningrad are also under review.

Brussels wholly rejects Russia's criticism of the treatment of their minorities by Estonia and Latvia, but indicates a willingness to commit extra funds to their integration.

Among other former Soviet republics with PCAs with the EU, Ukraine has also raised a number of concerns. But Kyiv's foreign minister told the EU on 12 February that Ukraine will sign the PCA extension protocol.

Kazakhstan also has said it wants an increase in steel quotas, which should not present problems. Moldova has not notified the EU of any concerns. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan are all willing to extend their PCAs.

The EU has no functioning partnership arrangements with Belarus and Turkmenistan.

EU officials at this stage brush off talk of sanctions against Russia. One official said on 20 February that the possibility is "theoretical and unlikely."

However, the EU has made it clear that failure by Russia to extend the PCA to the new member states will be seen as a breach of its existing contractual relationship with the bloc.

De Ojeda said, "Clearly, in these discussions that we're holding with third countries to expand our current agreements to take account of enlargement, if we don't manage to sign a protocol to do that on a legal basis by the 1st of May, then the result would be that the other country would not be applying that agreement to the 10 new member states, and therefore we would consider that a violation [of the PCA], and we would have to see what countermeasures we would take. But that is not an issue that we're looking at only in the context of Russia. That is just an automatic, standard position of the European Union."

One EU official says the bloc's reaction to any Russian discrimination against new member states after 1 May will be the same as if Moscow today violated the terms of the PCA against a current member state.

"We're having ongoing discussions with Russia on the modalities to extend the PCA to all new member states. We're not negotiating."
Commission officials indicate they expect the talks to conclude before the Russian presidential elections on 14 March. A meeting in Dublin on 11 March between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, his Irish counterpart, Brian Cowen, and the EU's External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten is seen as a key cut-off point. If the meeting fails to extract an agreement from Russia, the EU will seriously start considering sanctions.

Officials say preliminary low-level discussions are already being held to prepare for such an eventuality. Any EU countermeasures are likely to be trade related, involving the exclusion of Russia from the bloc's so-called "general system of preference" -- the EU equivalent of the U.S. "most favored nation" status. The European Commission would take charge of the procedure, employing the same structures that currently deal with trade disputes involving the United States.

However, the full impact of the possible refusal by Russia to extend its PCA to the 10 new member states remains hard to gauge. EU officials say it would, in effect, remove any "contractual basis" from EU-Russia relations.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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