Yury Borko

RIA Novosti
June 30 2008

Russia and the European Union (EU) will start talks on a new
Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in Brussels on July 4. This has
become possible owing to the joint efforts undertaken under the 1994
PCA, which expired last year. The summit in Khanty-Mansiisk kicked
off negotiations on a new agreement.

The decision has been made, but the course and outcome of the talks
are more difficult to predict. EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner,
who took part in the summit, believes that the talks will be long and
difficult. To use popular sports jargon, the talks will be similar
to steeplechase without any definite distance, start, or finish.

Neither partner has an adequate alternative to a new agreement. Both
equally need a legal document that will reflect the tremendous
political and economic changes in Russia, the EU, and the
world. Success, however, will depend on political will and a readiness
to compromise, and so far neither side has been prepared to meet the
other halfway. Possibly the official statement on the start of the
talks signals a readiness to do so. At any rate, it is a good sign
that the first round of the talks will start on July 4, just a week
after the summit.

Apparently the Europeans have accepted the Russian president's proposal
for a lightly detailed framework document, leaving room for individual
areas of cooperation to be specified in subsequent agreements.

Some of these areas have already been mentioned in Moscow and Brussels,
for instance energy cooperation, science and technology, trade and
investment (after Russia's WTO entry), and visa-free travel. Some
specific agreements may be drafted alongside the basic document,
but on the whole a package of such agreements is expect to be the
next stage in the formation of a new political and legal foundation
for a Russia-EU strategic partnership.

Three particularly contentious issues are likely to complicate the
talks. First, in the last few years EU countries and their institutions
have become increasingly concerned by elements of Russia's domestic
policy that they see as contrary to the PCA's basic values. Opposition
parties and human rights groups in Russia have a similar view of
their government's actions. The Russian delegation's position on this
is likely to be based on an approach recently formulated by Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said that Russia has embarked on radical
peaceful reforms and will develop universal democratic values but
in its own way, with due respect for its centuries-long traditions
rather than under outside pressure.

Both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his predecessor Vladimir
Putin support an open and public dialogue between Russia and the EU
on these problems. However, Moscow does not want its cooperation with
the EU to depend on the latter's assessment of the complicated and
sometimes contradictory development of civil society and democratic
institutions in Russia.

The second point of tension concerns the formation of a common energy
market, and provision of equal energy security guarantees in Europe. At
the moment Brussels and Moscow's respective energy strategies are
mutually exclusive. This situation is further aggravated by a lack of
consensus within the EU itself. Many EU countries, including Germany,
France, and Italy, oppose the strategy suggested by the European
Commission. The author of this article is not an expert on energy,
but it seems sensible to seal in the new agreement an equal right of
producers and consumers to diversify their gas and oil exports, and
transit routes. This would promote a rapprochement of the European
and Russian positions.

The third clash of interests will come over the CIS countries
in Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus. In effect, the EU
and Russia are competing for economic and political influence in
these regions. If that were not enough, they are also divided on the
domestic situation in Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia, and hold deeply
opposing views on the best ways of settling the "frozen conflicts"
in Transdnestr in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia,
and Nagorny Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Participants in the summit have agreed to preserve the current
format of settlement for the "frozen conflicts." That is reason for
optimism. On the whole, the summit in Khanty-Mansiisk seems to have
been the most fruitful Russia-EU meeting in the last three years. The
first round of the talks in Brussels will confirm or disprove this

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress