Merkel: EU should talk to Russia on security

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday (15 July) that the European Union as well as the NATO military alliance should discuss security issues with Russia, in order to prevent conflicts arising.

"We believe we have found a mechanism to raise all this to a higher level within the existing institutions in Brussels – namely to the level of foreign ministers – in order to create an institutional partnership," Merkel said on Thursday at a joint news conference in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

"This is not directed against anything," Merkel added. "We need an intensive dialogue to avoid conflicts. If certain problems are not resolved, bigger conflicts could arise from them."

Russia's ties with the West hit crisis point in 2008 when it fought a brief war with Georgia. Differences remain over security, despite a recent warming in relations.

Medvedev has argued for a "new European security architecture" to replace NATO, which Moscow sees as an outdated Cold War institution, but the United States and its European allies have shown little enthusiasm for the idea.

Earlier in the day, Russia and Germany pledged to strengthen economic ties as Medvedev called Europe's largest economy Moscow's "key partner" for the future.

Merkel, who after taking office in 2005 initially adopted a more reserved attitude to Russia than her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, has increasingly warmed to Moscow, meeting Medvedev for the second time in just a few weeks.

Next conflict Iran?

US President Barack Obama expressed confidence last week that Israel would not attack Iran without first consulting him.

"It is unacceptable for Iran to possess nuclear weapons and we are going to do everything we can to prevent that happening," Obama told Israel's Channel 2 television. "I think the relationship between the US and Israel is sufficiently strong that neither of us try to surprise each other."

But Obama left a lot unsaid, The Guardian commented. He did not say he would oppose or try to block future Israeli air strikes on Iran's nuclear plants – only that he expected to hear about them in advance.

He also did not say that Washington would refuse to assist or participate, directly or indirectly, in any such attack. The US preferred a diplomatic solution, he said. But then came the familiar mantra: "I assure you I have not taken options off the table."

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

EU-Russia relations went through a difficult period after Russia and Georgia 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. 

On the energy side, Russian gas giant Gazprom is drawing up long-term plans to strengthen its grip on Europe with pipeline projects backed by the Kremlin (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Pipeline Politics').

Last year, Moscow lashed out at a European Commission initiative to modernise Ukraine's gas pipeline system (EURACTIV 24/03/09). In Moscow's eyes, the EU executive should have better coordinated this plan with Russia, which is Europe's main gas supplier. 

Russia also dislikes the EU's 'Eastern Partnership' initiative (EURACTIV 08/05/09), a plan to foster closer political and economic ties with six former Soviet republics, suspecting that it is designed to substitute the Moscow-centred Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) with a Brussels-centred alternative. 

However, Russia remains a key EU partner. It is its third largest trading partner and an important exporter of oil and gas. Current cooperation is based on four policy areas: economic and environmental issues; freedom, security and justice; external security; and research and education. 

A new EU-Russia basic treaty is under negotiation.

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