EU to question relations with Russia

September 1, 2008 12:00 am

, BRUSSELS, September 1 – European Union leaders will put the bloc’s relations with Moscow under scrutiny at an emergency summit on Monday, although sanctions against Russia are not in the cards.

"Russia’s attachment to a relationship of understanding and cooperation with the rest of Europe is in question," French leader Nicolas Sarkozy said in the official invitation to EU heads of state and government.

"It’s up to Russia to make a fundamental choice in this respect," he added.

With France holding the EU’s rotating presidency, Sarkozy called the summit in Brussels so that the 27-nation bloc could formulate a "clear and united message" over Russia’s conflict with Georgia.

However, the leaders will have to overcome divisions over how to deal with Russia in order to speak with one voice, with many of the ex-communist EU members plus Britain and Sweden pushing for a tough line.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged on Sunday a "root and branch" review of EU relations with Russia in a hard-worded article in the Observer newspaper.

A number of the countries of "Old Europe", led by France and Germany, are eager to have a more nuanced position in order to avoid damaging ties with Russia.

Although the prospect of sanctions against Russia has been in the air, the French EU presidency has all but ruled them out, although EU leaders could decide to put negotiations on a new strategic partnership pact on hold.

On the eve of the summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev maintained a tough line, warning that Moscow was ready to retaliate against sanctions and that there was "no turning back" on his decision to recognise Georgia’s rebel regions, which has been fiercely condemned by the West.

"We are not advocates of sanctions and consider them to be a last resort," Medvedev said in an interview to Russian television.

Imposing sanctions requires the adoption of special laws, he said.

"If needed, we also can adopt such special laws," the president warned.

In a change of stance, Tbilisi said on Sunday that it was not looking for European sanctions against Russia.
"For us, European sanctions against Russia are not a priority," Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said in Istanbul.

The three-hour summit in Brussels will see a pledge of more aid for Georgia, where conflict erupted on August 8 after its army launched an offensive to bring South Ossetia, which broke away in the early 1990s, back under
Russia has since halted a five-day long reprisal offensive but has failed to withdraw all its troops from Georgian territory.

The EU leaders will also examine ways to bolster Georgia’s economy, and kickstart work on a free-trade area, as well as propose easing visa restrictions for Georgian citizens.

A source in Sarkozy’s office said the leaders would state "that the six-point deal must be applied in its entirety," referring to a ceasefire plan he brokered to end fighting between Georgia and Russia.


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