The deal -- signed this morning in Luxembourg by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and an EU delegation headed by Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen -- puts an end to months of bitter wrangling that threatened to seriously undermine relations between the two sides.
Cowen today said the agreement would put relations on a "new level.” "Now that PCA has been extended to take account of the enlargement of the European Union, I believe that the EU and Russia can look forward to a productive summit in May and to bringing EU-Russia partnership to a new level. The extension of the PCA to the 10 acceding states would allow the enlarged European Union and the Russian Federation to benefit from the opportunities created by EU enlargement," he said.
As part of the deal, the EU and Russia also signed a joint statement detailing EU responses to a number of Russian concerns related to enlargement.
Russia's Foreign Minister said further EU action on minorities is needed before the Duma will ratify the agreement.
The declaration addresses various trade issues, the transit of goods to Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, and the easing of the EU visa regime for Russia.
The statement also makes reference to the protection of minorities, although it does not name any countries.
Lavrov today said further EU action on minorities is needed before the PCA extension deal can be ratified by the Russian Duma.
"I would also like to express my satisfaction that we were promised to be handed in the coming days concrete information on EU action plans for the social integration of minorities," Lavrov said. "We will have a close look at them and support them. Now it is about putting what was agreed into practice. I underscore that specifically this aspect will be take into consideration by the Russian [Duma] at the ratification of the protocols extending the [PCA] signed by us today to the new member states."
Russia had initially demanded that the phrase "social integration" be included in the joint statement. However, spirited resistance from Estonia and Latvia -- which both have sizable Russian-speaking minorities -- prevented this. The reference in the joint statement to minorities does not name specific countries or minorities.
EU diplomats said the European Commission will now collate information about existing integration schemes for the new member states. However, they did not rule out the creation of new schemes.
Estonian and Latvian diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned this could give rise to demands from Russia for further talks in the coming months.
Lavrov said today Russia agrees to the extension of the PCA on a provisional basis, meaning pending final ratification by the Duma.
EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten today appeared to rule out what he called any further “conditionality.” He repeated the EU view that the agreement to extend the PCA and the joint statement are separate issues and not conditionally linked.
"Let's be clear about terms," Patten said. "We've been discussing this joint statement in parallel to the discussions about the enlargement protocol and the application of the PCA to the 10 new member states. We haven't been talking about conditionalities, we've been talking about a parallel addressing of concerns."
Latvia yesterday took the unusual step of having a note appended to the minutes of the EU foreign ministers' meeting stating that the bloc reconfirms it meets the so-called Copenhagen political entry criteria.
The minutes are not normally made public, although RFE/RL has obtained a copy of the note.
Latvian sources say the note was deemed necessary to avoid future Russian attempts to raise the minorities issue at the EU level.