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At EU-Russia Summit, Signs Of Strategic Division, Not Strategic Partnership

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the EU to back his plans for a new 'security architecture'
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the EU to back his plans for a new 'security architecture'
The EU-Russia summit, which concluded on May 22 in the far-eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk, served to expose the depth of the disagreement which increasingly bedevils the relationship between the two sides.

Emerging from the summit, EU and Russian leaders appeared to differ on all major issues currently facing them -- from security to energy and trade.

The bulk of the post-summit press conference was spent on mutual recriminations -- voiced discreetly by the EU, less so on the part of Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president.

Predictably, the tensions were highest, when it came to the two sides' influence in the former Soviet Union.

'Russia's Backyard'

Russia, which still considers the region its backyard, sees the issue as a zero-sum game. The EU believes it can share influence with Russia in Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the South Caucasus countries -- all participants in the bloc's Eastern Partnership, launched earlier this month.

Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, who chaired the EU delegation, said every effort was made to disabuse the Russian leadership of the notion the EU is seeking to roll back its influence.

"We tried to tell, [to assure] President Medvedev that the idea of the Eastern Partnership is strictly 'for' something, to achieve something positive, that the idea of the Eastern Partnership was not against somebody, definitely not against Russia. So I hope we reassured President Medvedev that this is our strong position," Klaus said.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, however, was having none of that. In what appeared to be a calculated insult, he suggested the EU itself did not know yet why it needs the Eastern Partnership.

If its aims were limited to facilitating economic cooperation, the Russian president said, he would have no objections. But Medvedev went on to highlight divisions within the EU -- and flatly reject Klaus's attempts to assuage Russian concerns.

"But, frankly speaking, what embarrasses me is the fact that some states view this partnership as a partnership against Russia," Medvedev said.

"I don't mean, of course, the EU leadership and our partners that sit at this table. I am talking about other states, but we don't want the Eastern Partnership to turn into a partnership against Russia."

Medvedev also tried to press his advantage at the summit by urging the EU to back his plans for a new "security architecture" for Europe. At the press conference, he sharply attacked NATO -- which includes as members most EU member states.

"We have partnership relations, for example, with the North Atlantic bloc. But, despite what seems to be a special form of relations, this form turned out to be weak when these relations were put to the test," Medvedev said.

"And the ongoing attempts now to rebuild ties between Russia and NATO are encountering quite serious difficulties."

EU member states and the United States have agreed to give Medvedev's plans a hearing at an OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Corfu, Greece, in late June. But diplomats say they are not likely to consent to a radical revamp of the OSCE, as Russia has previously suggested.

Gas Disruptions

The failure of the EU-Russia summit to register unity on a single major issue was most palpable in Medvedev's rejection of all responsibility for the disruptions in Ukrainian and European gas supplies in January, at the height of winter.

"The Russian Federation has not given, and will not give, any assurances. What for? There are no problems on our side," Medvedev said.

"Everything is fine with us -- both regarding gas and the fulfillment of our obligations. Let those who must pay for the gas make assurances. And here there is an opportunity for cooperation [with the EU]."

Medvedev's comments appear to explicitly torpedo the only EU ambition of note it associated with the summit -- that of setting up a upgraded "early warning mechanism" to avoid just such disruptions.

Shrugging off any responsibility for the crisis, Medvedev advised the EU to invest in relieving some of the Ukrainian debt he said the country owes Moscow.

The EU has been pressing Russia in vain for years to join the Energy Charter, which would oblige Moscow to put its energy trade on a transparent, market-based footing.

Russia has refused, with President Medvedev advocating at the Khabarovsk summit a new accord which would strengthen its position as the dominant supplier of gas and oil to Europe.

EU officials on May 22 also warned Russia it cannot expect to sign a new partnership agreement before it joins the World Trade Organization (WTO). The agreement, currently being negotiated by the two sides, would contain a free trade accord which EU officials say presupposes Russian WTO membership.

Russia, for its part, has shown scant regard for the EU's warnings, sharply increasing import tariffs on a vast range of EU goods earlier this year and threatening further tariff increases on exports of timber.

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