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EU/Russia: Summit To Emphasize Differences Over Basic Values

Leaders of the European Union and Russia will meet in the Dutch city of the Hague on Thursday for a summit. The summit was initially scheduled to take place in earlier this month, but it was postponed after a delay in the taking office of the new European Commission under Jose Manuel Barroso. Although both sides acknowledge each other as major strategic partners, important areas of contention remain. EU officials say the summit is unlikely to agree on an ambitious package of cooperation on four "common spaces." The disputed election in Ukraine is also expected to be a point of disagreement. RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports.

Brussels, 24 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Tomorrow's EU-Russia summit is likely to be another in a long line of top-level meetings between the two sides where ambition is not quite matched by results.

Both parties are keen to sign a "strategic partnership" that encompasses four so-called common spaces: external security, internal security, the economy, and science and culture.

The EU will go to the summit insisting that all four spaces be linked. Russia, on the other hand, would like to draw a line under the less controversial issues of science and the economy.

The two sides remain deadlocked over internal and external security. The EU said that Russia is unwilling to formally acknowledge the EU's "basic values" of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, or approve an EU role in resolving conflicts in Moldova or the South Caucasus.

Emma Udwin, a European Commission spokeswoman, told RFE/RL today that an overall agreement remains elusive.

"The prime focus of this summit has been planned to be agreement on four common spaces. These are four areas of policy where we have been working intensively to map out how we intend to cooperate together over the coming years, for the medium term," Udwin said. "Despite some very hard work there are still some questions that are unresolved and its certainly possible that by tomorrow there will still be some open questions."
Commission officials particularly stress that Ukraine will be raised as an international issue.

One Commission official said yesterday, however, that a joint declaration on culture and science remained possible. It would among other things establish a European Studies Institute in Moscow.

Much of the gist of the divergence of opinion between the EU and Russia is seen in reactions to the developments in Ukraine. The EU has said the presidential elections there were "fraudulent" and has criticized President Vladimir Putin for rushing to congratulate Viktor Yanukovych as the winner.

Emma Udwin said that the EU will make Ukraine a "major issue."

"Of course, in the light of recent events another very major issue on the agenda that we will be raising, in fact, is Ukraine and that will be raised as one of the international issues that we will be discussing together," Udwin said. "Of course, look at the map and you will see that Ukraine is of very close interest for the European Union and Russia. We both have a shared interest in seeing a democratic and stable Ukraine and we'll be wanting to discuss with our Russian partners the latest developments in the light of elections which international observers have found to fall quite some way short of European standards."

Commission officials particularly stress that Ukraine will be raised as an international issue, not as part of the "common spaces."

Nonetheless, in the longer term, Ukraine, like Belarus, Moldova, and the southern Caucasus, are for the EU prime targets for cooperation with Russia under the heading of "External Security."

"We do think that we should put a particular geographical focus on the area that lies - physically -- between our borders, and Russia's," Udwin said. "There is a common neighborhood between us, countries that are in our "back yard" and theirs. We're not wedded to that particular expression, but we do think that the notion, this concept, should be one of the prime areas for our cooperation together."

Udwin said Russia, however, does not feel "comfortable" sharing this "backyard" with the EU.

"Russia, up until this point, has not felt comfortable with this idea, and we're still working on how best to express our separate interests in this common area," Udwin said.

Speaking privately, EU officials say that in both internal and external security issues, Russia is reluctant to commit itself to "basic values" such as human rights, democratic principles, and the rule of law. Russia is, on the other hand, keen to increase cooperation in fighting terrorism and organized crime, and asks for a "time line" for the abolition of the EU visa requirement on Russian travelers.

On trade issues, the key sticking points that remain are the EU demand that Russia remove payments for Siberian overflight rights and ease the certification of European exports to Russia. Russia, for its part, continues to push for easier access to Kaliningrad.

Officials have said the EU and Russia are likely to agree to set up a new "forum" to discuss human rights concerns. Russia has indicated it will use the forum to address what it says is discriminatory treatment of Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia. The EU for its part, would like to raise Chechnya and the problems faced by Russia's own ethnic minorities.