EU prepares sanctions against Moscow to halt hostility to new members

Posted in Russia , Europe | 24-Feb-04 | Author: Ian Black| Source: The Guardian (UK)

The EU is warning Russia that it may impose hard-hitting sanctions unless it drops its belligerent attitude towards the east European countries joining the union in May.

Jack Straw and fellow foreign ministers are planning to tell Vladimir Putin that Moscow's already rocky relations with the EU will suffer unless it rethinks its negative approach to the EU's enlargement and treats the newcomers on the same basis as other states.

Their meeting on Monday will try to end months of deadlock by warning publicly of a "serious impact" on relations.

UK Foreign Minsiter Jack Straw: "A EU Russia Summit is to be held in May or June".
The European commission is already looking at trade sanctions modelled on those imposed in disputes between the EU and US.

Ireland, currently holder of the EU's rotating presidency, has spent weeks trying to break down Moscow's resistance to accepting that eight former Soviet satellites and republics are about to become members of a wealthy and powerful organisation.

Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia become fully fledged members on May 1, together with Cyprus and Malta.

Their foreign ministers will be with those of the current 15 members at Monday's talks in Brussels.

"This is urgent because it really must be done by May 1, so we have to send a firm message," a EU diplomat said last night.

An EU-Russia summit is to be held in Moscow in May or June.

Russia objects to the fact that the partnership and cooperation agreement which governs the terms of its trade with EU states is to be extended to the newcomers.

That means companies in Poland and Slovakia will be able to export goods to Russia at much lower tariffs than previously. The rules must be applied "without precondition or distinction" to all 25, ministers will say.

Last month Russia put forward 14 demands, aiming to defend its economic interests through measures such as increased import quotas and more preferential tariffs. It also wants its citizens to have visa-free access to the EU.

The ambassadors to Moscow of the 25 current and future EU members were summoned to the foreign ministry for a "detailed account of Russia's concerns over the predicted adverse consequences" of enlargement.

Analysts say Russia's behaviour on this issue mirrors the way it reacted when Nato decided to expand its membership to former members of the Warsaw pact.

"It could be bluster or sabre-rattling again, but it's a bit nerve-racking and we have to take it seriously," an official said yesterday.

EU-Russian trade was worth €78bn (£52bn) last year.

There is frustration that the two sides are making such slow progress in other areas.

The EU has been considering taking a tougher line with Russia for some time, complaining that despite Mr Putin's commitment to reform, discussion of issues such as Chechnya and media freedoms is still so fraught.

The commission announced a review of its Russia strategy after the fury caused by the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, when holder of the EU presidency, praising Mr Putin's Chechen policy and his attitude to the oil giant Yukos: a direct contradiction of Brussels' views.

This month the commission called on the EU to underline that its partnership with Russia "must be founded on shared values and common interests, which implies discussing frankly any Russian practices that run counter to European values, including those on human rights, media freedom and cooperation on the environment".

Russia's failure to adopt the Kyoto global warming protocol has also been a source of irritation.

Another sensitive area is EU policy towards Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, Russia's "backyard" in the southern Caucasus, and to the former Soviet states Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.