Russia, Europe Await Samara summit
Alexei Makarkin for RIA Novosti, 15 May 2007
The EU-Russia summit to be held in the Russian city of Samara on the Volga River on
May 17 and 18 is unlikely to result in any major sensations. Events of this kind
rarely involve slamming the doors or other demarches, and this one least of all as
no one is interested in a scandal that would aggravate the already strained
relations between Europe and Russia.
The EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) expires on December 1,
2007. It was signed back in 1994 as an instrument to regulate Russia-EU interaction
(including regular summit meetings) in the transition period, and was supposed to be
smoothly replaced by a more extensive agreement upon expiry.
However, the growing pile of problems suggests that a new agreement is unlikely to
be signed within the next six months. In fact Russia is not too worried, assuming
that the one now in force can be extended if need be. Europe does not see a new
agreement with Russia as a top priority either.
The current Russia-EU relations are complicated by both strategic and tactical
issues. For example, Russia's and Europe's energy interests are strategically
different. Russian ambitions to have long-term stable retail contracts are just as
strong as Europe's determination to diversify fuel suppliers and encourage
competition. Hence Russia's firm refusal to ratify the disadvantageous Energy
Charter; Europe, in turn, is making every effort to push at least some of its
provisions into the new PCA, since its ratification proves impracticable right now.
However, both sides have recently confirmed that they have experience in settling
strategic disagreements. They have finally reached understanding on Russia's WTO
entry following a negotiating process which was anything but smooth.
Tactical problems are more complicated, more emotional and often unexpected.
The Russian-Polish "meat conflict" broke out long before the projected Samara
summit, but it made Warsaw block the Russia-EU negotiating process for some time.
The meat issue remains sensitive in the run-up to the summit because Russia has
again made it clear it is not going to lift the embargo on meat imports from Poland.
An EU spokesman said the new PCA was not going to be discussed in Samara. The Polish
issue, however, will remain in the focus of the meeting. Moreover, no matter how
strongly the Kaczynski brothers would annoy Europe, it would still treat Poland as a
"friend," meaning that Europe would back Poland in any conflict that might arise,
although doing its best not to quarrel with Russia.
The recent events in Estonia are another sensitive issue in Russia-EU relations.
Russia plans to raise the Bronze Soldier issue in Samara, even if not to focus on it
entirely. The discussion of the dismantled monument in Tallinn will no doubt bring
up the issue of the Estonian embassy blockade in Moscow. The sides will certainly
exchange blows, but are unlikely to achieve any results, because the options for
reaching understanding are very limited here. Europe really fails to understand why
Russia is so concerned about monuments of a war that has long become history, while
Russia is shaken by Europe's lack of reverence for the memory of the bloodiest war
in the history of humankind.
Lithuania is likely to exacerbate tensions, as President Valdas Adamkus said it
would block the PCA negotiations unless Russia renewed oil supplies to the Mazeikiu
refinery via the Druzhba pipeline. The supply to the only oil processing facility in
the Baltic countries was interrupted in June 2006 after a pipeline accident in the
Bryansk Region, but Vilnius preferred to see it as a political demarche. The
Lithuanian issue might also come up in Samara, even if not as a priority one.
Consequently, Samara is unlikely to see any breakthroughs in Russia-EU relations
this week. The most painful issues will probably be smoothed down, leaving the
participants to speak halfheartedly on the creation of four Russia-EU common spaces,
an issue that can last them through several future summits as well.
Alexei Makarkin is deputy director general of the Center for Political Technologies.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily
represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-