Why Is Europe Powerless to Do Anything?
Yekaterina Kuznetsova for RIA Novosti, 18 May 2007
On May 18, Russia will play host to the Russia-EU summit in the Samara Region. The
main news is expected from Poland, which has not lifted its veto on the EU-Russia
talks on a new agreement on partnership and cooperation.
Lithuania has also declared that it may veto the talks because of Russia's failure
to supply oil to the Baltic's only refinery since June 2006. On the eve of the
summit, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging Russia and the European
Union to make human rights a fundamental principle of their relations. The Russian
press has received information to the effect that the summit will discuss Estonia's
actions, notably, the transfer of a monument to Soviet soldiers. Russia is supposed
to be to "blame," but not repenting.
The current Russia-EU relations boil down to the two key moments. First, the East
European countries are confidently setting the tune in talking to Russia and most of
them are infected with the Russophobia virus, as the president's special envoy to
the EU, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, put it. Second, there is no united foreign policy as
regards Russia, and for this reason instead of conducting constructive dialogue,
Brussels, Strasbourg and national capitals are engaged in boring moralizing and keep
Russia's relations with EU countries have been often marred by disputable issues but
not once has any major EU nation raised them at a summit, although Moscow's ban on
imports of Dutch flowers to Russia for phyto-sanitary reasons or Alexander
Litvinenko's mysterious death in London last fall could have well been used for
staging a row.
The attitude of East European countries is totally different - Poland and the Baltic
nations do not have West Europe's diplomatic potential and do not want a compromise
with Russia. Moreover, they have been deliberately trying to hurt it by exploiting
its only doubtless element of national identity - the victory over Nazism. Why was
Brussels silent when Poland shut down the Russian display at Auschwitz? Why did
Estonia decide to move the Bronze Soldier on the very eve of the 62nd VE anniversary
and not after the commemoration day?
In the meantime, the European Commission and ministers are ignoring the really
serious reasons to delay the start of the talks - there are problems with political
rights and the opposition and Russia's refusal to reform its penitentiary system.
Instead, "concerns" are being voiced by European parliamentarians, who mix the ABM
issue with human rights, the Bronze Soldier with Chechen prisons, Polish meat with
The conclusion suggests itself - united Europe does not want to assume
responsibility for creating a new model of relations with Russia. As a result, the
European agenda for Russia is regrettably bleak. It includes obstacles to the
conclusion of a new agreement on partnership and cooperation (that is, problems of
the Polish agrarians and Lithuanian oilmen); energy security; Russia's WTO entry;
and ratification of a treaty to simplify the visa issuing system. On the
international front, the Europeans are planning to discuss Kosovo, Iran, the Middle
East and prospects of frozen conflicts in Transdnestr and the Caucasus.
The sides hold irreconcilable positions on many of these issues. It is not clear why
the EU wants to discuss Russia's WTO entry if it has already signed a protocol to
this effect. Or will the Europeans revoke their signature under pressure of some
forces? Discussion of energy security is likely to be idle talk. While building
state-run capitalism, Russia is carrying out nationalization and monopolizing its
raw materials industry - it has no intention to give foreigners access to its
deposits or pipelines. This situation could change if the Europeans opened their
energy market to Russian companies, but they have made it clear more than once that
they are not going to let the "uncivilized Russians" take part in the retail.
Disputes over issues that do not have quick solutions are leading the sides away
from crucial questions. Europe wants to include Russian pipes into the pan-European
network and have free access to them, but they have never expressed readiness to
make Russia part of the trans-European transportation system, especially to those
projects that are aimed at increasing the passenger traffic and encourage the
population's mobility, which is five times slower in Russia than in West Europe.
Uniting Russia and Europe into a single transportation system with integrated routes
is the best way of promoting rapprochement and mutually advantageous cooperation.
Russia would welcome proposals on cross border cooperation and exchange of
experience; joint efforts against drug trafficking and trade in people; training of
Russian police and border troops in procedures of respectful repatriation; and
re-equipment of border control check-points to fit European standards (particularly
if the Europeans promised to simplify or cancel visa procedures).
Engaged in debates of one and the same questions and the "destinies of the world,"
the Europeans may forget that tranquility in Europe is a big question. Official
sources do not clarify whether the ABM issue will be discussed at all. The Europeans
are not masters in their own house if they allow the United States to turn Eastern
Europe into an instrument of threatening Russia. Vladimir Putin has already
responded to this by talking about a potential moratorium on the Treaty on
Conventional Forces in Europe. This is a signal for the Europeans. They might think
that he has overreacted - but what do they expect from a country that they promised
back in 1999 to integrate into their united economic and social space with a common
The upcoming summit is not encouraging. Its agenda is being compiled by East
European states that are settling old accounts and blocking dialogue between key
regional players. Instead of starting consultations - even if unofficial - on new
forms of cooperation with Russia, be it a privileged agreement on partnership,
association or common market, the European bureaucrats have concluded that the
agreement on partnership and cooperation can be simply extended. Accusing Russia of
authoritarian rule, European officials are unable to do much about the situation. It
seems that Brussels does not control EU relations with Russia.
Yekaterina Kuznetsova is an expert with the Center for Post-Industrial Society
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily
represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-