EU-Russia summit to focus on ‘hard security’

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‘Hard security’ will be the main topic at the EU-Russia summit in the far-eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk near the border with China on 21-22 May, the country’s ambassador to the EU told journalists in Brussels yesterday (13 May).

Vladimir Chizhov insisted that the time had come to move forward a recent proposal by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss a new European Security Treaty (EURACTIV 09/10/09) and transform an existing set of “rather vague political commitments” into “legally-binding obligations”. 

Among these obligations, Chizhov singled out a commitment “not to enhance one’s own security at the expense of the security of others”. Russia has opposed attempts to join NATO by countries in its ‘near abroad’, especially in the case of Georgia. 

The Russian ambassador singled out the Czech Republic, saying Moscow would question the role of “one individual of the EU”. He later explained that he was referring to former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who had said Belarus would not be allowed to participate in a proposed ‘Eastern Partnership’ with the EU if it recognised the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. 

“We believe that such methods of political pressure are unacceptable,” he added. 

Romania accused on Moldova tensions 

Chizhov also referred to Moldova, accusing the Romanian authorities of aggravating tensions there. 

“We didn’t fail to notice some public statements coming from Bucharest, about who is living on the other side of the river, and the references to the border as being a temporary line, and the refusal of Romania, for years, to sign a border treaty with Moldova. Something on which the EU has been much more relaxed than on the treaties between Russia and the Baltic states. I don’t know if this is double standards, or just ignorance,” he said. 

Chizhov also expressed dismay at the Romanian president’s initiative to grant citizenship on a massive scale to Moldovan nationals of Romanian origin (EURACTIV 15/04/09). 

Arctic cold 

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on Russia’s unveiling yesterday of its ‘Strategy for National Security until 2020’, which warns of possible military clashes, including in the Arctic, where Moscow has increasingly flexed its muscles (EURACTIV 19/09/08), Chizhov made it plain that this was no EU affair. 

“We believe that in the foreseeable future consolidated efforts of the Arctic states are sufficient. Let me remind you that that there is no EU member state among the Arctic states,” Chizhov said. 

The European Commission’s views on that subject differ. The EU executive thinks that the existing legal framework does not prevent the development of “new specific sectoral instruments” (EURACTIV 24/11/08). 

The states surrounding the Arctic are Russia, the USA, Canada, Norway and Greenland, which in June 2009 will become a country in its own right by splitting from Denmark, following a referendum held recently. The Commission has decided to apply for observer status in the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for countries and peoples, including the Arctic indigenous communities. 

Russia to ask Klaus about the Lisbon Treaty 

Chizhov did not hide his satisfaction that Czech President Václav Klaus would represent the EU presidency at the Khabarovsk summit, alongside Commission President José Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. He added that he had higher expectations of the new Czech government, led by Prime Minister Jan Fischer, as it was expected to be “less politicised, less ideological”. 

“And we will hear what President Klaus has to say about the Lisbon Treaty,” Chizhov said, with a witty smile. Asked if his comments revealed a personal distaste for the new EU treaty in the knowledge that Klaus makes no secret of his opposition to it, he replied: 

“Well, I want clarity, by the way. Because when we come in our negotiations [of a future EU-Russia treaty] on the last chapter, which is mechanisms for cooperation, I would need clarity at that point.” 

‘No’ to Moscow Gay Pride 

Asked about the banning of a ‘Gay Pride’ event scheduled for 16 May by the mayor of Moscow, which was designed to coincide with the ongoing Eurovision Song Contest, a kitschy event in which the Russian capital has spent tens of millions of euros, Chizhov said the main motivation of the authorities had been to avoid clashes. 

“I wouldn’t exclude strong reactions from those who don’t like [the gay pride],” he said. 

Many nationalists and the Russian Orthodox church say homosexuality is an evil which needs to be stamped out. 

Personal affairs? 

Chizov was also pressed by journalists to comment on a scandal at NATO, from which his son, working as a diplomat accredited to the alliance, was expelled for espionage. 

“My son was implicated in the role of a victim of a gross provocation,” Chizhov said, adding that he was speaking as a father, not as a diplomat. He stressed that he had received the news “with a combination of outrage and disgust”. 

Chizhov explained that he knew NATO well, as he was responsible for Russia-NATO relations as deputy foreign minister before coming to Brussels. 

“I know how the organisation works. So I find it hard to believe that those who were taking that decision [to expel my son] were ignorant enough not to be aware of who is doing, or rather not doing, what he has been accused of,” he stated. 

The Russian representative called the decision to expel his son a “totally groundless political move”, adding that his son had graduated less than three years ago from the Moscow Institute of International Relations and was a promoter of Russia-NATO relations. 

As for suggestions in the press that the move might undermine his position, he insisted that “if that was the case, then this target has been missed” and the “story” would not have any implications for Russia-EU cooperation. 

Russia's relations with the West are going through difficult times, especially after a recent spy row at NATO, where two Russian diplomats accredited to the alliance were expelled from Belgium over accusations of espionage. One of them is Vasily V. Chizhov, Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov's son. 

Moreover, Moscow lashed out at a recent European Commission initiative to modernise Ukraine's gas pipeline system (EURACTIV 24/03/09). In Russia's eyes, the EU executive should have better coordinated this plan with the country, 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. 

On 13 May, Russia unveiled its 'Strategy for National Security until 2020', which does not rule out military conflict, including over energy resources, in the Arctic, Caspian or Central Asian regions. 

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