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Values, Energy Compete As European Parliament Debates Russia Policy

EU external-relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has criticized Russia's policy toward Georgia
BRUSSELS -- During a broad European Parliament debate in Strasbourg on October 21, senior EU officials said Russia's recent actions in Georgia cannot go unchallenged.

But while looking out for the EU's core values, they concluded that energy dependence on Russia gives the bloc no other option than to resume partnership talks with Moscow.

Following its recent military action in Georgia and recognition of the independence of two of the country's breakaway regions, Russia has found itself in breach of some of the EU's most sacred principles.

The violation of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity are "unacceptable," the EU's external-relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, told the European Parliament on October 21.

Ferrero-Waldner also questioned Moscow's approach to international relations. "We cannot share the principles of foreign policy recently articulated in Moscow, including the resurgence of [the concept] of spheres of influence," she said.

Along with French Europe Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet, who was representing the current EU Presidency, Ferrero-Waldner told the European Parliament that Russia must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors, uphold the norms of international conduct, refrain from the use of force, respect human rights, and foster democracy.

EU Energy Needs

But the two also underscored the vital interest the EU has in continuing its dialogue with Moscow: the bloc needs Russian energy; 80 percent of foreign investment in Russia originates from the EU; Russia is a major holder of euro-denominated assets; and Moscow is an indispensable partner in resolving global conflicts and preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Both Jouyet and Ferrero-Waldner concluded that EU-Russia partnership talks, suspended by the bloc in September, must be resumed. Neither made any reference to the conditions the EU attached restarting negotiations -- including that Russia must first withdraw its forces to the lines held before August 7, just before fighting broke out between Georgia and Russia in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

French Europe Minister Jouyet attempted to explain how the EU's values and interests could be reconciled with one another.

"We must pursue a constructive engagement to know if Russia wants to return to the advantages of dialogue. But we must continue this dialogue, as was already indicated this morning [at the European Parliament] by the President of the [European] Council [Nicolas Sarkozy] without compromising the principles on which Europe is founded," Jouyet said. "The dialogue with Russia can only be based on respect for the sovereignty of states, the rule of law, and common rules."

Yet Jouyet also echoed French President Nicolas Sarkozy's argument that EU-Russia talks on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement must urgently be resumed.

Poland, the Baltic countries, Britain, and Sweden last week successfully delayed a decision on the issue until at least November 10.

But facing intense pressure from Paris, Berlin, and other Western EU capitals, Russia's detractors admit they cannot hold out indefinitely. The most likely deadline for a restart of the EU-Russia talks is the next biannual summit of the two sides in Nice, France, on November 14.