Stanley's blog

“Russia is back on the stage as a responsible state capable of protecting its citizens” (Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov).

The emergency EU summit has met, deliberated and concluded as follows:

Strong condemnation of unilateral recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

  • Need for the six-point agreement of 12 August to be implemented.
  • Given their interdependence and the global problems they are facing, there is no desirable alternative to a strong relationship, based on cooperation, trust and dialogue, respect for the rule of law and the principles recognised by the United Nations Charter and by the OSCE.
  • Call on Russia to make this fundamental choice in favour of mutual interest, understanding and cooperation.
  • Until troops have withdrawn to the positions held prior to 7 August, meetings on the negotiation of the Partnership Agreement will be postponed.

What else was decided?

Member States will continue to send observers to South Ossetia, and a fact-finding mission will be immediately dispatched with the task of helping to gather information and defining the modalities for an increased EU commitment under the European Security and Defence Policy.

  • Economic aid will be increased to help the reconstruction.
  • The Commission is to submit proposals in December 2008 to step up regional cooperation, in particular through its neighbourhood policy, the development of the “Black Sea Synergy” initiative and an “Eastern Partnership” which the European Council wishes to adopt in March 2009.
  • An EU Special Representative for the crisis in Georgia will be appointed.
  • The recent events illustrate the need for Europe to intensify its efforts with regard to the security of energy supplies. The Council and the Commission are to examine initiatives to be taken to this end, in particular as regards diversification of energy sources and supply routes.
  • The Council and the Commission are to evaluate the relationship forthwith and in the run-up to the Nice European Council meeting on 14 November 2008.
  • The Presidents of the European Council and the Commission, and the High Representative, will go to Moscow on 8 September.

Just as assessing Russian strategy is complicated by non-rational influences, so individual Member States are influenced by their history and emotional attitudes towards Russia. Consensus is understandably very difficult to achieve in the European Council, but is made more difficult because of the failure to treat the current Russia-EU standoff as a common problem requiring a common solution, and the loss of the spirit of solidarity, once the glue holding so much together. Instead, the objective becomes to agree by consensus a declaration which necessarily papers over the disagreements.

Poland and the Czech Republic first and foremost want the American security umbrella, despite the effect of the Anti-Missile Project on Russian attitudes. Germany is particularly dependent on Russian energy. The UK has an ongoing dispute concerning the Russian refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi. And so on.

Until there is a new incumbent in the White House, the US cannot be expected to act decisively. This gives Europe an opportunity to fill the vacuum, beginning with agreeing a common strategy. We have seen what this means!

How then can find a workable common strategy? The starting point must be acceptance that the EU’s policy towards Russia has failed (without necessarily admitting this publicly). In this process, we need to understand better how the Kremlin is thinking and what is its strategy. At the end of this post, I have reproduced the Russian position as elucidated by its articulate and persuasive EU Ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, to the European Policy Centre on 3 September.

The basis of the approach must be to find a solution in the long term in the mutual interests of the EU and Russia. And integration and not separation must be the objective, starting with economic integration. Historical disagreements and swapping allegations of unacceptable conduct will get us nowhere. Above all, a mental change in attitude is required.

Europe should distance itself from the apparent intention of Georgian leaders to rebuild its armed forces as if another war with Russia is almost inevitable. The Bush administration is examining what would be required to rebuild Georgia’s military, but no decisions have yet been made.

Sanctions would take us down a dangerous path. Calling off the October EU-Russia summit, as proposed by Poland, would be the wrong approach. But the EU should propose that detailed negotiations for a Partnership & Cooperation be preceded by an agreement on the fundamentals required before negotiating specific provisions.

The need for greater EU energy security is obvious. But this is not achievable without greater solidarity between Member States. Reducing Europe’s transporting dependence on Russia is essential. This means that we must insist on Georgia being a conduit for gas from Central Asia.

Finally, we come to the two inflammatory issues which substantially influence Kremlin thinking and behaviour: NATO expansion and the US Anti-Missile Project. As to NATO expansion, Georgia and Ukraine know this is now a dream and it needs to be recognised as such. It’s hard to imagine all NATO’s present members being prepared to go to war with Russia over Georgia.

Europe does not fear an Iranian missile attack and the Polish and Czech participation is not predicated on this. The EU should demand that Washington review the siting of bases in the EU. This is feasible if Barack Obama wins in November.

But in return, Russia needs to behave as a responsible stakeholder internationally. This includes ceasing to use the control of energy supplies as a political weapon as well not repeating elsewhere its disproportionate behaviour in Georgia and ending the bullying and harrassing of its neighbours, when they do not dance according to the Moscow tune.

Unless Russia’s legitimate grievances are met, the EU will not progress beyond issuing consensual but ineffective declarations. And in my view this means, Georgia and Ukraine not becoming full members of NATO, and no US anti-missile bases being sited in the EU.

However, the Kremlin’s policy will be subject to domestic pressures, such as reactions to the substantial fall in Russia’s stockmarket and now the weakness of the rouble due to the Georgian conflict. Loss of direct inward investment is likely to be more influential than Western posturing. Oil and natural gas account for 60% of Russian exports, which means a very high dependence on (falling) oil prices.

Thrust of Ambassador Chikhov’s remarks to EPC on 3 September:

The West is obsessed with the ‘idée fixe’ that it has to contain Russia. It has not been able to prevent the Georgian leadership from invading South Ossetia. It has closed its eyes over the violations of human rights by Georgia.

There has been too much ideology, remilitarisation and favouritism.

The Georgian President was not elected democratically last November. He brutally suppressed the opposition.

Russia was in a difficult situation after the attack on South Ossetia. It would have preferred not to intervene militarily, but had to defend the lives of its citizens. Russia has been an example of moderation in the face of aggression.

We are not witnessing a return of the Cold War. Today the world has become interdependent, with new powers rising on the horizon and the role of the West shrinking: It represents only 15 per cent of the world’s population.

The West has expanded NATO and has militarised Georgia The EU has violated OSCE stipulations by allowing weapon exports to Georgia and helping it build a military machine.

Russia has no interest in splitting the EU or to sever EU-US relations. It welcomes a unified EU position for a strategic partnership with Russia. Russia does not use energy as a political tool.

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