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Analysis: EU not ready to forgive Russia

"Pro-Russian" powers point to the timely withdrawal of all Russian troops from the Georgian mainland and to the importance of normalized relations with the Kremlin. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi even proposed EU membership to Russia. The "Russia-critics," led by Britain, in turn argue that Moscow needs to reduce its troops within Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two breakaway Georgian provinces Russia has since recognized as independent states. Russia has 7,600 troops in the provinces, significantly more than before the outbreak of hostilities with Georgia in early August. The Russia-critics want to wait and see how the crisis develops.
by Stefan Nicola
Berlin (UPI) Oct 16, 2008
The European Union remains disunited over its diplomatic course toward Russia.

EU leaders during a summit in Brussels were not able to find a joint position on when to resume official talks with Russia for a new partnership and cooperation agreement. They delayed the decision to Nov. 10, four days before an EU-Russia summit in Nice, France.

A new agreement is long overdue to reflect changed realities; the current one is from 1997, at a time when Russia was economically and politically weak, and the EU without many of its new member states from Eastern Europe.

Always ambitious French President Nicolas Sarkozy had hoped to announce the swift resumption of talks -- which would de facto normalize relations between Brussels and Moscow -- Wednesday or Thursday in Brussels. That plan failed because of differences between member states on how to deal with Moscow as the Caucasus crisis continues.

Germany, Italy and other powers had lobbied for the swift resumption of talks, while Britain, the Baltic states, Denmark, Sweden and Poland have said such a step would come too early.

"Pro-Russian" powers point to the timely withdrawal of all Russian troops from the Georgian mainland and to the importance of normalized relations with the Kremlin. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi even proposed EU membership to Russia.

The "Russia-critics," led by Britain, in turn argue that Moscow needs to reduce its troops within Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the two breakaway Georgian provinces Russia has since recognized as independent states. Russia has 7,600 troops in the provinces, significantly more than before the outbreak of hostilities with Georgia in early August. The Russia-critics want to wait and see how the crisis develops.

The United States also has criticized the Russian troop surge in the provinces, which runs contrary to a previous cease-fire agreement.

"The only Russian forces that are supposed to remain in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are the peacekeeping forces in the numbers previously set," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried said in a briefing. "So this requirement has not yet been met, but we hope it will be."

A team of EU observers has since moved into the security buffer zones left by the Russian troops. Yet Russia-backed South Ossetian separatists on Thursday complained that these observers are not able to guarantee security in the buffer zone.

"The buffer zone where the Western bureaucrats in military uniforms are is out of control," Mikhail Mindzayev, South Ossetia's top interior official, was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency. "Their presence in the buffer zone is completely incomprehensible. ... The international observers do not get in contact in the event of provocations from the Georgian side."

Mindzayev also told Interfax of kidnappings of civilians in the buffer zone and of shootings at nearby South Ossetian villages.

Meanwhile, separate talks to ease the crisis in the Caucasus and to normalize relations between Moscow and Tbilisi were suspended until next month. At a summit in Geneva, a team of diplomats failed to get representatives from Russia and Georgia to even talk to each other.

"The Russians and the Georgians were not in a formal meeting at the same time. ┐┐They weren't in the same room at the same time," Fried said.

The EU, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had organized the one-day meeting, which was aimed at launching a series of regular talks to build confidence between the main actors. The United States also took part in the meeting.

Yet both sides refused to talk to each other, mainly because of differences on how to include the South Ossetian and Abkhazian authorities in the framework.

Both Russia and Georgia in Geneva demonstrated a "practical and constructive spirit," Fried said.

"It was clear that both the Russians and the Georgians were looking for ways to move forward and resolve problems rather than create them.

"Unfortunately ┐┐ the de facto authorities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia who were present at the meeting, I'm sorry to say, did not exhibit such a constructive spirit. They chose, instead, to walk out of the informational session. They demanded, after they walked out, they demanded as a pre-condition for further talks, basically treatment which would have meant that they were full national delegations, which no one was prepared to do."

A next attempt at negotiating will be made on Nov. 18 -- at least one decision all parties were able to agree to.

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Georgia accuses Russia of breaking ceasefire
Tbilisi (AFP) Oct 15, 2008
Georgia on Wednesday accused Russian forces of firing grenades at a police post and entering its airspace in violation of a European-brokered ceasefire.







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