EU and Russia agree to new series of wide-ranging talks

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EU and Russia agree to new series of wide-ranging talks

BRUSSELS: Ending an 18-month impasse, European Union countries agreed Wednesday to begin wide-ranging new negotiations with Russia, raising hopes that an era of tension and confrontation with Moscow could give way to an improved relationship.

The agreement among senior European diplomats paves the way for the EU and Moscow to start negotiating their first broad cooperation deal in more than a decade.

"The new agreement we want to strike with Russia will shape Russian-EU relations for the 21st century," said Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for the Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief. "It will replace what we currently have in place, which was the first agreement between the EU and Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union."

Coming at the start of the presidency of Dmitri Medvedev in Russia, the negotiation will be a test of whether or not the relationship between Europe and Moscow can improve after years of combative rhetoric from his predecessor, Vladimir Putin, who remains a powerful force as prime minister.

But negotiating the so-called Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will also put pressure on the unity of the EU, which has often failed to speak with a single voice to Moscow.

So sensitive are relations with Russia that the Europeans haggled for 18 months before coming to this agreement, which sets out the mandate with which the European Commission will conduct the talks with Moscow.

This step was delayed first by Poland, then by Lithuania, which cited concerns over energy security, the disappearance of Lithuanian businessmen in Russia and unresolved conflicts involving Georgia and Moldova.

Vilnius finally agreed to an EU mandate for the negotiations when an annex committed the European side to raise the three issues.

The pact negotiated by EU ambassadors opens the way for EU foreign ministers to approve the mandate formally at a meeting Monday and for negotiations to begin at the EU-Russia summit meeting in the western Siberian region of Khanty-Mansiisk at the end of June.

A total of seven annexes to the main text were agreed to, including one that binds the EU side to discussing the case of Alexandr Litvinenko, the former KGB agent who was killed in London.

"The important thing is that we have the agreement of all members to adopt the mandate while problematic questions will still be a matter" of the partnership talks," The Foreign Minister of Slovenia said at a news conference in Ljubljana, Reuters reported.

The talks are expected to last at least a year and any agreement will have to be ratified by all 27 EU member states, making it unlikely to enter into force until 2011.

Energy concerns will dominate the negotiation and the mandate requires the EU side to call for an agreement that would "enshrine the principles that would result from the ratification of the energy charter by Russia."

That would mean forcing Russian energy monopolies to allow Western companies to use their pipeline network to transit supplies through Russia, an idea vehemently rejected by Moscow.

Nevertheless there was optimism that some form of agreement could be reached in part because of growing economic interdependence.

According to Eurostat, the statistics office of the European Commission, Russia is the EU's third most important trading partner, after the United States and China, accounting for 6.2 percent of EU exports and 10.4 percent of EU imports in 2006.

Thomas Gomart, director of the Russia Center at the French Institute of International Relations, said that the timing was favorable because of the advent of a new president in Russia.

But he added that the negotiation would be more difficult for the EU side than during the past agreement of this type in the 1990s, when Russia was economically and politically weak.

"In Russia. now there is political assertiveness and a real strategy toward the EU, while there is no real EU strategy toward Russia," he said.

Masha Lipman, political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that, while Putin's tough rhetoric against the EU had been popular politically in Russia, it had not furthered Russian economic interests in Europe.

"Being a difficult partner may serve to get over past humiliation but it doesn't do anything to further its interests," she said. "Both sides have interests and both sides have potential benefits."

Areas singled out for co-operation included science and technology education and training, the customs area, crime, transport, energy and telecommunications, environment and culture.

Since the agreement entered into force in late 1997, Russia's economic ties have grown significantly, as has its political and diplomatic weight. And in the meantime, the EU has expanded to include countries that were once part of the Warsaw Pact and which remain suspicious of Moscow.


21/05/2008, International Herald Tribune


8. Answer the questions:

1. What wide-ranging negotiations did Russia and the EU agree to start after ending an 18-month impasse?

2. What is this agreement aimed at?

3. What has prevented the adoption of this agreement over the past 18 months?

4. Is the mandate of the agreement approved by all 27 EU member states?

5. When is the agreement expected to enter into force?

6. Does growing economic interdependence of countries accelerate the negotiations on the adoption of the Cooperation and Partnership Agreement?

7. In what areas does the deal aim to foster cooperation Between Russia and the EU?


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