Frosty Russia-EU relations get even colder

  • 2008-09-03
  • By Monika Hanley

ONE FOR ALL: The three foreign ministers came back from a trip to Brussels and held a joint press conference in Riga.

RIGA - The three Baltic foreign ministers showed a united front and backed the EU's decision not to impose sanctions on Russia.
The EU Council of Ministers decided in Brussels on Sept. 1 to freeze talks on a new strategic EU-Russia accord but stopped short of the sanctions proposal.
The Baltic states have been particularly strident in campaigning for the EU to take stern measures against Russia, as has been noted by political analysts and the media.

The decision was made during an informal meeting while discussing aid to Georgia and the future relations with the EU. The British backed the proposal for sanctions but in the end all parties agreed to a compromise.
The Latvian foreign minister, Maris Riekstins, warned that the decision was not final and that much still depends on negotiations in Moscow between Russian officials and French president Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.
"The [Baltic] ministers expect Russia to heed the EU urge to comply with the peace agreement signed earlier and liabilities thereof," Riekstins said.
Estonian foreign minister Urmas Paet emphasized that it is important to continue talks on the provision of humanitarian aid to Georgia and the withdrawal of Russian troops to the positions they held before the conflict escalated.

Paet added that introduction of a visa-free regime with Russia would be impossible at present and the future of the talks will depend to a large extent on further Russian decisions concerning Georgia.
The Lithuanian foreign minister, Petras Vaitekunas, in his turn, said that these informal talks play an important role. He underscored that he is satisfied with the Monday decision of the EU and added that Russia is damaging its reputation with its current policy.

Estonian MP Katrin Saks, a member of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament, has also said that an independent international commission on Georgia should be set up because of the different interpretations that people have of the events.
Saks said the emergency meeting of EU leaders shows that EU-Russia relations will not remain the same in the light of the most recent events.

Lithuanian political reviewer Kestutis Girnius, in analyzing the EU decision, stated: "I believe it is a rather rational decision because it focuses on the protection of Georgia, not punishing Russia. Instead of doing nothing, the EU passed a decision to provisionally punish Russia 's tighten the relations by calling off the partnership negotiations."

A recent SKDS poll found that 35 percent of Latvian-speaking residents perceive Russia as a threat to the countries independence. Surprisingly, 9 percent of the Russian-speaking population was also of the same opinion. Both results are a sharp jump from a similar survey in 2007.
The next round of EU-Russia talks is scheduled for Sept. 15.

The Baltic ministers expect Russia to heed the EU push for compliance with the peace agreement signed earlier. The unified urge for peace is something that MP Saks said affects everyone.  "This is not a conflict between Georgians and Ossetians, nor is it a conflict just between Russia and Georgia 's it is a conflict of values that touches every one of us," she said.