Baltics upset over EU-Russia Summit

  • 2008-11-19
  • By Matt Withers

RENEWED TALKS: The EU has decided to resume talks with Russia despite resistance from Lithuania.

TALLINN - On Nov. 14 French President Nicholas Sarkozy represented the EU at the 22nd EU-Russia Summit in Nice, effectively marking the resumption of bilateral strategic talks and sparking an array of responses from the Baltics.
Given Russia's defiant stance over August's conflict in Georgia and their persistent refusal to adhere to the obligations of the Russian-Georgian peace agreement, the Baltic states had been dubious about the EU's decision to resume the strategic talks.

Lithuania was the only member state to vote against the motion to resume talks made at the meeting of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council on Nov. 10. The decision likely influenced by increasingly aggravated Lithuanian-Russian relations following Russia's plan to deploy missiles in the neighboring Kaliningrad exclave.
Both the Estonian and Latvian foreign ministers expressed their reservations about the talks but agreed that achieving a unanimous EU stance was paramount.

"It is crucial for the EU to speak with one voice toward Russia, not only about the new EU-Russian partnership and cooperation agreement, but also when resolving existing problems, including the situation in the South Caucasus," said Latvian Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins.
"At the summit the European Union must give Russia a clear message that the invasion of Georgia left a deep effect on the trust necessary for EU-Russian partnership relations and all points of the Russian-Georgian peace agreement would have to be observed," said Urmas Paet, his Estonian counterpart.
Responses to the summit have been particularly vocal in Estonia given the widespread dissent among the Russian-speaking population and the recent treason of Herman Simm (see story Page 2).

Immediately following the summit, prominent Estonian politician Marko Mihkelson, chairman of the parliamentary European Affairs Committee, released critical statements about the EU's handling of Russia on his Web site. Mihkelson was particularly dismayed with Sarkozy's bending to Russia's will.
"At today's meeting Sarkozy agreed on behalf of the European Union to organize in June or July of next year a pan-European security conference 's an idea for which Russia has been pushing strongly," Mihkelson said.
He also wrote that the "lack of consistency, especially in relations with Russia, has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks of the EU."

Estonia also played host to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates for an unscheduled NATO meeting on Nov. 13, suggesting that the northernmost Baltic state is less than easy about the situation with its large neighbor.
"I'm not so sure this is a meeting the secretary would have attended had the Russians chosen not to invade Georgia," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.
Meanwhile, the Estonian government is taking a more diplomatic approach to the situation. The foreign ministry expressed its support for the current EU action so long as there is solidarity amongst member states over Russia's misdoings.

"We believe it is important to be constructive, but it does not imply that the EU accepts the status quo in Georgia. Russia has not fulfilled all the commitments of Aug. 12 and Sept. 8," Helen Rits, a spokesperson for the ministry, told The Baltic Times.
"Estonia considers it of crucial importance to arrive at a clear and common position inside the EU on any new ideas before offering solutions to third states," Rits said.