EurActiv.com

EU news and policy debates across languages

11/12/2016

Barroso reassures Moldova, Georgia ahead of EU pact signing

Europe's East

Barroso reassures Moldova, Georgia ahead of EU pact signing

José Manuel Barroso and Nicolae Timofti, President of Moldova

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso urged Russia yesterday (12 June) not to stand in the way of Moldova and Georgia forging closer ties with Europe, despite the conflict caused by Ukraine’s lurch towards the West.

The two former Soviet republics plan to sign an “association agreement” on trade and political relations with the European Union on June 27 – a move which Moscow fears will take both countries further out of its sphere of influence.

Visiting the capital Chisinau to show solidarity with Moldova, Barroso delivered a speech that made no mention of Ukraine, but sought to assure Russia that it had no reason to feel threatened.

“The association agreement is a positive agreement meant to add more momentum to Moldova’s established international relations, not to compete with or intrude on Moldova’s relations with any of its other partners, in particular Russia,” he told an investment conference.

A more stable, secure and prosperous Moldova would benefit Russian producers and investors, he added.

“So I call upon Russia to take advantage of the new opportunities and not to take punitive measures further to the upcoming signature and implementation of the agreement with Moldova. There is no economic reason nor legal justification for such behaviour,” Barroso said.

In the Georgian capital Tbilisi later on Thursday, Barroso said that forging closer ties with Europe, including joining a free trade zone, would help bring prosperity and stability. He expressed hope that Russia would not put any obstacles in the ex-Soviet republic’s way.

“Russian President Mr. [Vladimir] Putin told me and my colleague, European Council President Van Rompuy that Russia was not intending to have any kind of negative action on Georgia, when Georgia signs this agreement with the EU,” Barroso told a news conference with Georgian President Georgy Margvelashvili.

“I hope that President Putin will stand by his own word.”

Barroso has also appealed to Russia to “engage constructively with Ukraine and to propose concrete steps to de-escalation efforts.”

Russian tanks…

In Tbilisi, Barroso said he had spoken to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who expresses his “extreme concern” over an incident with Russian tanks that according to the Ukrainian authorities have crossed into Ukrainian territory.

Reuters correspondents saw two tanks in the border town of Snizhnye, in eastern Ukraine, but said it was not clear where they had come from or whether they had previously been used by the Russian or Ukrainian army. They had no identifying markings to show whether they were Russian army tanks.

Evidence that Russia is sending in weapons or assisting the rebels militarily would implicate Moscow in the uprising against Kyiv’s pro-Western leaders, making a mockery of its denials that it has played a role in weeks of fighting.

A press release issued by the President of Ukraine says that for the first time, militants in the east of Ukraine for used tanks that, according to the Ukrainian intelligence, arrived from the Russian Federation.

“The European Union has stated several times, and I want to repeat it today, that it is very important that Russia ceases any kind of military actions in this area,” Barroso said.

… and Russian warnings

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin signalled Moscow’s displeasure to Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca during talks on Tuesday, warning of “complications” in economic ties and a “serious test for them”.

Similarly, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich warned Georgia last month of “possible consequences” of signing the agreement with the EU.

Moldova, with a population of just over 3.5 million, and Georgia, with a population of 4.5 million, see the signing of an association agreement as a crucial step towards mainstream Europe and eventual membership in the powerful EU trading bloc.

Situated between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova has no border with Russia, and fears Moscow might impose visa requirements on Moldovan citizens working in Russia or extend a ban on imports of Moldovan wines to include fruit and vegetables. It is also heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies.

Moldova is also concerned that Russia could foment unrest in Transnistria, a Russian-speaking strip of land running down Moldova’s eastern border with Ukraine where opposition to the pro-Western policies of the Chisinau government runs strong.

Georgia, which borders southern Russia, but has no frontier with the EU, is wary of Moscow’s political intentions six years after their five-day war in 2008 over two breakaway regions.

Georgian politicians fear Russia might now try to absorb those regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, following the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Russia says it recognised the two countries’ right to sign the association agreements, but Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to visit Chisinau on either June 17 or 18, giving him a last chance to spell out Moscow’s view.

Background

Russia has flexed its muscles less over Moldova and Georgia than it did last year over Ukraine's plans to sign up for an association agreement with the EU.

Moldova is a former Soviet republic, and was part of Romania before being annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II. It is landlocked between Romania and Ukraine. Moldovans speak Romanian, although the country's constitution calls it the 'Moldovan language'. Russian is also widely spoken.

Transnistria, a Moldovan region east of the Dniester River, has been considered a 'frozen conflict' area since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It has ethnic Russian and Ukrainian populations. Although internationally Transnistria is part of Moldova, de facto its authorities do not exercise any power there

Georgia is another former Soviet republic with which Russia fought a five-day war in August 2008. The conflict saw Russian troops repel an assault on the breakaway pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, which broke free from Tbilisi's rule in the early 1990s.

Russia later recognised South Ossetia and Georgia's second breakaway region of Abkhazia as independent states. Russia has thousands of troops stationed in both regions. The EU doesn’t recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia and has a monitoring mission which patrols in the areas adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Timeline

  • 26-27 June: EU leaders meet for regular Spring summit on the occasion of which the Association agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia will be signed.

Further Reading