An EU ambassadors meeting ahead of the crisis summit convened by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on 1 September ended yesterday (28 August) without consensus on the level of sanctions to be applied against Russia following the Georgia conflict.
While some countries, including Britain, Poland and the three Baltic States, are pushing for the bloc to take a harder line which would involve putting negotiations on an EU-Russia partnership treaty on hold, France, Germany and Italy advocate a more cautious approach.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner sent out contradictory messages on Thursday (28 August), saying on the one hand that the EU is considering sanctions and that the decision would be adopted at the European Council. But, in a later statement, he made clear that “France does not propose sanctions”. Explaining his stance, he added: “I say they will certainly be suggested. Certain countries have already asked that sanctions be imposed.”
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has notably urged “new caution” about EU plans to sign a new basic treaty with Moscow that would replace a ten-year accord signed in 1997. The EU only recently managed to come up with a mandate for negotiating such a treaty (EURACTIV 24/06/08).
In the meantime, on a visit to Kiev, Miliband added that in the aftermath of the summit, the EU would need to draw up “an audit of EU-Russia relations to ensure that on each and every aspect of our relationship what we are giving Russia is worth what we are receiving in return”.
Some EU eastern members are also pushing for other possible sanctions, such as tightening the visa regime, but this also proved to be controversial.
The divisions mean the EU is unlikely to take any tough measures and Moscow could rather be “punished” indirectly, with the Union strengthening its relations with Georgia and Ukraine, notably by signalling stronger support for Ukraine’s bid to join the Union, as well as providing aid and easing the visa regime for Georgia.
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has already indicated that the EU summit could be used to signal solidarity with Ukraine in the light of possible threats from Russia.
Russia confident: Sanctions bad for EU
The main problem is the EU’s reliance on Russia for gas and oil, not to mention the fact that their economies are inextricably linked.
Speaking to journalists yesterday in Brussels, Russia’s Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said he highly doubted EU sanctions would be imposed on his country. If sanctions are indeed imposed, he said the Union would be making a “grave mistake”.
“I highly doubt that might ever happen, but hypothetically speaking, that would be to the detriment of the European Union, as much, if not more, than to Russia.”
Asked if he expected the talks on the new basic treaty to proceed as planned from 16 September, he said: “Yes, I expect the negotiations to continue and I do not possess any information to the contrary. There was a statement from the Commission yesterday (27 August) that they are proceeding from the same assumption. Hopefully the leaders of the EU will not make a different decision on Monday. I certainly hope that reason and common sense will prevail.”
Chizhov also said he did not believe that consensus will be reached, as required, to put EU-Russia negotiations on hold. The Russian ambassador also dismissed the importance of Olli Rehn’s statements, saying that the commissioner had gone far beyond his mandate.
US takes measures
In the meantime, as a punishment for Russia’s incursion into Georgia and the recognition by Moscow of the two Georgian breakaway provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the White House is reportedly considering scrapping a civil nuclear agreement with Moscow.