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Fuele Deplores Russian Pressure On EU's Eastern Neighbors

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fuele said any threats from Russia linked to EU agreements were "unacceptable."
STRASBOURG, France -- The European Parliament has overwhelmingly adopted a resolution that deplores different types of pressure being exercised by Russia on the EU's Eastern neighbors.

The text, supported by all major parties in the chamber, calls on the European External Action Service (EEAS) to consider recent developments "beyond a purely trade dimension" and asks Brussels' foreign-policy corps to "send a strong message of support for all Eastern Partnership countries in their European aspirations and choices."

The resolution follows a sharply worded address to the chamber on September 11 by the EU commissioner responsible for the European Neighborhood Policy, Stefan Fuele.

Fuele said any threats from Russia linked to the possible signing of EU Association Agreements at a summit in Vilnius in November would be "unacceptable."

Fuele said this applied to all forms of pressure, including possible misuse of energy pricing, artificial trade obstacles, and threats to withdraw security guarantees or cease military cooperation. He said the EU would stand by countries that choose to sign Association Agreements with Brussels instead of opting for the Moscow-led Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia.

Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine

Russia is suspected of pressuring countries such as Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine in the run-up to the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November, apparently in the hope of making them instead join its own customs union.

Several of the EU's eastern partners are expected to formalize closer relationships with Brussels at the summit by either initialing or signing an Association Agreement and an accompanying Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU.

On September 11 Russia imposed a ban on Moldovan wine. In August, Moscow stopped Ukrainian products from crossing the border for nearly a week.

"This is not how international relations should function on our continent in the 21st century. Such actions clearly breach the principles to which all European states have subscribed," Fuele told European lawmakers.

"In the Helsinki Principles of the OSCE, we have committed to respect each country's, let me quote, 'right freely to define and conduct as it wishes its relations with other states in accordance with international law,' end of quote. The European Union will support and stand by those who are subject to undue pressures."

Cannot Join Both

Fuele said a country cannot enjoy both a DCFTA and membership in a Russian-led customs union.

"It is true that the customs-union membership is not compatible with the DCFTAs, which we have negotiated with Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia," he said.

"This is not because of ideological differences; this is not about a clash of economic blocs; or a zero-sum game. This is due to legal impossibilities. For instance, you cannot at the same time lower your customs tariffs as per the DCFTA and increase them as a result of the customs-union membership."

Armenia announced last week that it had chosen to join the Russia-led customs union amid speculation of intense pressure from Moscow. Yerevan did, however, indicate that it would like to initial the Association Agreement without the DCFTA, a setup similar to the position Azerbaijan is negotiating with the EU.

The commissioner said it would be possible for Eastern Partnership countries to increase cooperation with the customs union in an observer-status role. He said Brussels encouraged its partners to seek deeper ties with Russia in accordance with their Association Agreement obligations.

"We have to do a better job in communicating with Russian friends. Make this point again and again. The eastern partnership is not at your expense, it is not against you, it is not against your interests," Fuele explained.

Fuele also observed that EU norms often are adopted internationally and are fully compatible or identical with World Trade Organization rules, which should help everyone, including Russia, to modernize and open up to globalization.
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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.