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EU Summit To 'Reevaluate' Relations With Russia

EU foreign -policy chief Javier Solana speaks to journalists in Brussels ahead of the summit.
EU leaders are meeting in Brussels in an emergency attempt to find a consensus position regarding Russia in the wake of the Georgia crisis.

But in the run-up to the summit, many of the participants have indicated there is very little that they agree upon.

That means the summit will almost certainly have to take a lowest-common-denominator approach, that is, one that doesn't rile any of the member states too much.

Hints of what that consensus position might look like are contained in the draft declaration being circulated by France, the summit chair.

The draft has yet to face the heated debate expected during the meeting, so the final summit declaration may look quite different. But, the French paper, seen by RFE/RL, will be the starting point and, thus, likely highly influential in shaping any final accord.

The draft states the EU is "gravely concerned by the open conflict which has broken out in Georgia, by the resulting violence, and by the disproportionate reaction of Russia."

It goes on to "strongly condemn" Russia's recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and says the European Commission must examine its "practical consequences."

EU officials have suggested privately that the bloc may look for ways to block commerce originating from Georgia's two separatist regions and for ways to exclude its denizens from the visa-facilitation regime the EU has with Russia.

The draft also says that the EU will conduct "a careful in-depth examination of the situation and the various aspects of EU-Russia relations." The review would be carried out in the run-up to the next EU-Russia summit, scheduled for November 14 in Nice, France.

Several of the draft provisions echo remarks by EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana to the press earlier on September 1.

"Sanctions are not on the agenda today. What we may do is today to [begin to] reevaluate our relationship with Russia," Solana said. "As you know, we are the beginning of a new process with the PCA [Partnership and Cooperation Agreement negotiations launched in July], all these things [will] have to be reevaluated in the time ahead."

The draft also reiterates the EU's demand that Russia pull back all its troops to "the lines held prior to the outbreak of hostilities" and begin international talks on "security and stability arrangements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia."

And the draft affirms the EU's readiness to contribute observers to an OSCE mission. However, it does not expressly say the EU intends to dispatch its own mission of observers.

Finally, the draft says the EU will also promise emergency and reconstruction aid to Georgia.

Avoiding Confrontation

If the position Solana sketched out survives the summit, it would represent a clear course between the two camps of European opinion over Russia.

France, Germany, and Italy are eager to not go too fast or too far in letting the Georgia crisis begin a new era of confrontation with Moscow.

Sarkozy, who chairs the summit, wants to continue his personal diplomacy to solve the crisis. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told Europe 1 radio that Sarkozy "wants to propose to his European counterparts a certain number of initiatives [such as] that he himself will go back to the Russian and Georgian capitals to advance the cause of peace."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told his country's ZDF television over the weekend that "I clearly say 'no' to all those who want to borrow from the recipes of the Cold War." He added that "Europe would only hurt itself if we were to get full of emotion and slam all the doors shut" in relations with Moscow.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told his country's daily "Corriere Della Sera" much the same. Saying Russia must respect the cease-fire, he noted, "It's good for the rules to be respected, but it must be clear that [Russia] is a strategic partner and not a hostile country" for the EU.

Yet Britain and many Eastern European states have made it clear they want the summit to send a far stronger message to Moscow.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told his country's "The Observer" weekly that "the EU should review, root and branch, our relationship with Russia." He has said it might be necessary to exclude Moscow from Group of Eight (G8) meetings and review its ties with NATO.

Brown also said he had warned Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in a phone call on August 30 to "expect a determined European response" over Georgia.

These sharp differences of opinion are likely to result in tough negotiations over several elements in particular in the French draft.

One of the most contentious passages in the draft declaration is its Article 3, which says that while "all European states have the right freely to determine their foreign policy and their alliances," it is "also legitimate for the security interests of each to be taken into account" so long as these respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of states.

Critics are likely to regard the last part of Article 3 as intended to placate Russia and partly legitimize its ambitions to be recognized as a regional superpower.

Similarly, several member states are likely to call for a much quicker reevaluation of relations with Russia than by the November 14 EU-Russia summit.

EU's 'Georgia Bias'

As EU leaders have very publicly aired their differences in the run-up to this summit, both Russia and Georgia have sought to influence the debate.

Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili told RFE/RL's Georgian Service he expects the tougher approach to prevail.

"We will most likely see strong language by the EU toward Russia, and I think the EU will choose the path of step-by-step isolation of Russia," he said.

"I think most probably the EU will take a break before the November summit and put forward some conditions [to Russia]. And if the conditions aren't fulfilled by November, they will start to introduce some sanctions. And all this will probably be tied to the Sarkozy plan."

Iakobashvili also said he expects the bloc to consider a free-trade regime and simplified visa rules to advance his country's integration with the West.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko during a press briefing called on Brussels to refrain from imposing sanctions on Russia, adding that "we expect the European Union to make a balanced, fair assessment of what happened."

He also said a pullout of Russian troops from much-disputed "security zones" in undisputed Georgian territory could be facilitated by the entrance of international police overseen by the OSCE.

"The Russian side has no intention of keeping its peacekeeping forces outside the boundaries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia forever," he said. "At the same time, we will insist on reliable international control in Georgian districts adjacent to [South Ossetia and Abkhazia's] territory to prevent the preparation by the Georgian regime for new military adventures."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on September 1 that the West should follow its own interests in the crisis and end its defense of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

"If the United States and its allies in the end choose not their own national interests, not the interests of the Georgian people, but rather choose the Saakashvili regime, which has not learned anything, it will be a mistake of truly historic proportions," Lavrov said.

Russian officials have repeatedly challenged the EU and Washington for being, in Moscow's view, entirely pro-Georgian. The charge has been aired so frequently that one reporter in Brussels on September 1 asked Solana for his reaction.

"I think that the situation today -- whatever the analysis [that] can be done about the beginning -- it is a situation which is clear. Georgia is a country [whose] territorial integrity has been [violated]. This has [been accompanied by] tremendous damage on the ground -- people, property, etc -- and I think it's our obligation to help," Solana replied.

"We have [issued] a very clear statement already on the recognition [by Russia of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia] -- we're against. And we want to help the people in Georgia to help recuperate the damage that has been [done] to them."

Moscow's deliberately slow implementation of the six-point cease-fire has been a major embarrassment for Sarkozy and the EU, of which France is the current president. Russian troops remain on Georgian soil despite the accord's requirement that troops pull back to their preconflict positions.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Georgian demonstrators formed human chains through Tbilisi and other major cities. In Tbilisi, the chain stretched for kilometers from the central Freedom Square along the city's main street, Rustaveli Avenue. President Mikheil Saakashvili told the crowd on Freedom Square that Georgia "is united as never before." Saakashvili said that there were "1 million people on the streets." His assessment could not be independently confirmed.

This comes as Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told reporters that the country expects the EU to agree to "adequate measures" against Russia.

with agency reporting
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