MEPs urge Russia to respect pro-EU neighbours

Jacek Sariusz-Wolski.jpg

The European Parliament has adopted a text criticising Russia's geopolitical goals, which have put Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in a “precarious position”.

In the resolution adopted yesterday (12 September), MEPs called on the EU institutions to consider the recent pressure from Russia “beyond a purely trade dimension” and take action in defence of the EU's Eastern European partner countries.

A summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November is expected to see the signature of a landmark association agreement between the EU and Ukraine, and the start of similar agreements with Moldova and Georgia.

The resolution mentions Russia's import ban on the Moldovan wine industry, an additional hurdle blocking progress towards the resolution of the Transnistrian conflict, as well as security-related threats with respect to Armenia.

The text says the moves were "aimed at forcing the Eastern partnership countries not to sign or initial the Association Agreements or DCFTAs but instead to join the Russian-led Customs Union, which Russia intends to transform into a Eurasian Union”.

As a result, those countries are put “in a precarious position as a result of geopolitical constraints to which they should not be subject".

Speaking in a plenary meeting, Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, of the European People's Party (EPP), who is one of the main authors of the resolution, said that the Russian pressure was escalating into sanctions, as was the case with Moldova.

“Action is needed and we need to move beyond just descriptions and diagnosis. Who will defend our Eastern partner countries?" he said. Quoting former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, he asked: "If not we, then who? If not now, then when?”

“Russia is challenging the EU, not only the Eastern Partnership,” said Saryusz-Wolski, who is also an EPP vice president. “We have to admit that we are on a collision course with Russia. It is Russia who has taken a confrontational course. We need a contingency plan and swift action."

Saryusz-Wolski said five of the Parliament's political groups had agreed to seven forms of response:

  • Put diplomatic pressure on Russia, by summoning the Russian ambassador and transmitting a formal protest note;
  • Diplomatically support the EU’s Eastern partners in various ways, also in multilateral fora, including WTO;
  • Exert diplomatic pressure on Russia, by putting Russian pressure on Eastern Partnership countries very high on the agenda of bilateral talks;
  • Help the countries being pressured by Russia by delivering them energy, by opening the EU markets to their goods like wine, and by building interconnecting energy, gas and grid infrastructure;
  • Retaliate via trade against Russia – if Russia puts an embargo on Moldovan wine, the EU could put an embargo on Russian spirits;
  • The European Commission to stop refraining from submitting what he said was an already ready complaint against Gazprom's abuse of dominant position on EU gas market and its price manipulation to the detriment to EU consumers;
  • File a complaint with the World Trade Organization against Russia.

 “If we do not do this and loose at our doorstep, let’s stop talking about the EU as a global actor,” Saryusz-Wolski said.

MEP Evgeni Kirilov (Socialists & Democrats, Bulgaria), who is also the co-chairman of Euronest, the parliamentary assembly of the EU and the Eastern partnership countries, also criticised “the consecutive acts of applying unjustified trade measures and threats against the countries which also aim to deepen relations with the EU contradict the principles of this strategic partnership”.

“The EU offers partnership agreements which are consistent with their pursuit of good neighbourly relations with Russia,” Kirilov said.

The Euronest co-chair was also critical at the EU, who in his words has not been “active enough” in contributing to the settlement of frozen conflicts like Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria.

“This is now used for serious pressure on some of the Eastern Partnership countries. Looking critically, we should push from both sides. We should really help this process to reach a successful end in Vilnius,” Kirilov said.

Anton Podlutskyi, Vice-president of the Association of journalistic research – an association of several business and political journalists of Ukraine, sent this commentary to EURACTIV:

“At last European organisations began to react quickly to Russia’s pressure on Eastern Partnership countries. However, except diplomatic steps, the situation requires the practical realisation of the initiatives proposed by the European Parliament.

“The recently adopted resolution needs to have practical consequences. The unification of the positions of all political forces of the EP and the unanimity in condemning Russia is not a reason to relax either for the EP or for Eastern Partnership countries.

“Unfortunately, there has been an opinion in Ukraine for a long time that what European politicians say does not exceed the bounds of the EP and the resolutions adopted by it are never realised in practice. This it also well understood in Russia. Although it must be admitted that the given resolution is tough and for the first time contains concrete proposals and recommendations.

“And the matter is not Ukraine’s fulfillment of the assumed obligations for the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU. Because one thing is to criticise Russia’s pressure and express political support for Ukraine, and an absolutely different thing is to impose economic sanctions on Russia.  

“It is unlikely that any EU country will take a risk to openly oppose Russia, all the more so, to impose embargo on Russian goods. Besides, Russia has not been treating seriously such EP proposals as diplomatic pressure and complaints to the WTO for a long time,” Podlutskyi concluded.

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement may become the major geopolitical achievement of the current European Institutions leadership, expert Vadym Omelchenko of the Gorshenin Institute in Kyiv told EURACTIV.

Omelchenko argues that this landmark document is likely to be signed “on the conditions of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych”. He did not elaborate.

At the same time, Omelchenko notes that it would be  irrelevan to argue who “won” and who “lost”, saying that the “circumstances and the pre-history of the agreement will fade out in the historical prospective over time, and only the geopolitical victory will remain in the history”.

“Those who have enlarged for at least a slight part of a territory enter the history as efficient politicians. The position in the history is worse for those who lost the territory”, Omelchenko said. He concluded:

“The current European Parliament and European Commission deserve a geopolitical victory. Nobody else has done more – neither in technical nor in legal terms - for Ukraine’s integration into Europe”.

Russia is getting nervous with the approach of the 28-29 November Vilnus summit of the Eastern partnership, which is expected to see the signature of a landmark Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, and the initialling of similar agreements with Moldova and Georgia. These countries, along with Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia, are members of the EU’s Eastern partnership initiative.

Instead of becoming part of the market, EU Russia wants those countries to join its Customs Union, which has as members only Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Reportedly, Armenia has already agreed under Russian pressure to join the Customs Union. 

  • 28-29 Nov.: Eastern Partnership Summit, to be held in Vilnius under the Lithuanian EU presidency. Ukraine hopes to sign the agreement there, and Moldova and Georgia expect to initial similar agreements

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