Russia worried about new dividing wall post-EU enlargement
By Henry Meyer
As the European Union expands deep into the Soviet Union’s former backyard in Eastern Europe, Russia is worried that the new borders in Europe will erect a dividing wall between it and the wealthy bloc.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month reaffirmed Moscow’s commitment to closer ties with the enlarged 25-member European Union, which will account for half its trade. “For modern-day Russia, the European Union is a key partner. We intend to devote particular attention to this,” he said after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac. But the Russian leader also raised concerns about the consequences of Saturday’s momentous events when 10 states mainly from the former Communist bloc became members.
“We need to find acceptable solutions based on compromise,” he said. While many predicted a row over NATO expansion, with the US-led military alliance taking in seven new eastern European states on March 30 including the three former Soviet Baltic republics, it is the EU enlargement that has provoked the most controversy.
Relations between Brussels and Moscow plunged to their worst level in years as Russia dragged its feet on extending a partnership accord to the 10 new members, in a row, which were only resolved days ahead of Saturday’s enlargement.
The dispute comes at a time of growing concern in Brussels over Russia’s brutal war in breakaway Chechnya, signs of backsliding over democracy, and Russian reluctance to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Russia has defended its conduct, saying it wanted compensation for 300 million euros (365 million dollars) in annual trade losses from the withdrawal of preferential tariffs as the former Warsaw Pact nations join the EU and the possible imposition of quotas for steel and grains.
The European Union agreed on Tuesday to temporary measures to cushion Russia from the loss of traditional markets following Saturday’s enlargement. The special measures apply to chemicals such as potassium chloride and ammonium nitrate as well as to grain-oriented electrical sheets, notably silicon carbide, aluminium foil.
The EU also agreed to exempt goods in transit between Russia and the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad from customs duty under a renewed Partnership and Cooperation Accord (PCA) between the two huge trade partners.
Russia agreed in return to extend the PCA to include the 10 new EU members, after holding up the signing to insist on safeguarding the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in two Baltic States, Estonia and Latvia. EU officials have insisted that the enlargement will only benefit Russia, a major energy supplier to Western Europe, and whose exports will now have a massive market of 450 million inhabitants in the 25-member bloc.
But Dmitry Trenin, deputy director of the US-based Carnegie Moscow Centre research institute, says the expanded EU — which one day could take in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine and even Georgia — clashes with Russiaia’s interests.
“Our leaders have decided that Western integration, which would mean conforming to European democratic norms and getting rid of autocracy, is not suitable for us,” he said, adding Moscow was determined to re-establish influence in the ex-Soviet Union. Maxim Yusin, foreign editor of leading Russian daily Izvestia, said the influence that former Soviet satellites still smarting at Moscow’s historic dominance will now wield in the EU will heighten these divisions. “Moscow’s worst fears have been confirmed, that the entry of 10 new members, including eight from the former Soviet bloc, will increase anti-Russian sentiment in the EU,” he told AFP.
Russia’s response is to concentrate on building personal ties with heavyweight European countries, in particular Germany and France. —AFP