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EU-Russia: Khanty-Mansiysk Engagement

Church of the Resurrection in Khanty-Mansiysk.
by Andrei Fesyun
RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jul 01, 2008
The European Union (EU) and Russia have been so slow in starting negotiations on regulating their new relationship that now they will talk about it in Siberia.

As we know, Siberia is a land of opportunity. On June 26-27, the EU-Russia summit in Khanty-Mansiysk is expected to produce a decision on the start of negotiations on a new strategic cooperation agreement. The negotiations themselves are supposed to begin on July 4.

They may start earlier, or be delayed for another week. But at this stage the exact date is not so important, for this is an engagement rather than a wedding.

Russian and EU leaders have blessed the talks, but this does not mean that they will be quick or that from now on it will be "all sail, no anchor." The EU-Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) expired in 2007, and was automatically extended for a year. The talks on a new strategic cooperation agreement to replace the PCA may last from a year and a half to several years.

That is no big deal. The sides can extend the old PCA as long as they want, until one of them gets sick and tired of it. Russia, at least, has no reason to rush - it is successfully trading with its European partners. The problem is therefore not one of time, but of substance. There are many points of dispute between the two sides, which have been further complicated by the Irish rejection of the EU's Lisbon Treaty.

Moscow finds it increasingly difficult to understand the EU's attitude to the talks, and is unsure what to expect from the process. Even if we eventually sign a new PCA, and nobody is able to change its provisions, how long will it take the parliaments of 27 EU members to ratify it? Europe has again rejected its new Constitution (in the guise of the Lisbon Treaty), and it will find it even easier to freeze the PCA.

The start of the talks has already been delayed several times, and we have enough patience to wait for the PCA's ratification. But we find it difficult to understand why Russia is being used as a guinea pig in the process of formulating a common European foreign policy.

It is clear that many of the new EU members are emphatically anti-Russian because they have amassed many grievances against us in the past. But why is their position becoming the backbone of EU policy? Why are the new members using their right of veto so easily to force their views on others? Russia has changed, and it is tired of tests on democratic standards or European identity, all the more so since they are often demanded by those who have yet to achieve complete European identity themselves.

It will be even more difficult to match Russia's and the EU's systems of values. They still have very different views on sovereignty, human rights, the role of civil society, and interference in domestic affairs. Nor their social-economic models are similar. Such differences also exist in EU relations with the United States and Japan, but it is only with Russia that Europe is trying to conclude agreements that would impose the European system of values on it.

All too often, we are asked to sign bilateral versions of EU documents or follow instructions meant to adapt us to European political and economic standards. For some reason, the Europeans deem it necessary to seal in legal agreements even the minutest commitments of this kind, ratify them, and turn them into norms of Russian national law. This is like signing a prenuptial contract.

One of the most indicative (and odious) examples is the Litvinenko case, which at British insistence will be included on the agenda as a "judicial cooperation" issue. Russia is unlikely, however, to give official seal to a commitment on mutual extradition of criminals.

Let's recall a little history. The future Russia-EU agreement should replace the PCA, which was signed by Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, in Corfu in 1994, and came into force in 1997(the delay in validation was caused by the Chechen war). It was concluded by a different Russia with a different EU. At that time we were still in the intensive care unit after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and agreed to terms that we would hardly accept today.

We can trade with any EU member without this agreement. Indeed, Europe needs it more than we do, because it wants to regulate all aspects of our co-existence, not only business, but also security, culture, politics, the judiciary, civil rights, and compliance with laws. From the European point of view, the future contract should specify everything which is allowed and which is not.

That Brussels wants to regulate its relations with the world's only energy super-giant is understandable. But Russia is no longer interested in signing an agreement written in different ink for a "crippled giant," who may or may not be given access to European markets and wealth.

Unlike the EU, Russia believes that it will be next to impossible to agree on an excessively detailed draft in reasonable time. Moscow favors a compact agreement, which would consider the new realities and would promote extensive partnership on the one hand, and allow the sides to be rather flexible in its implementation, on the other. It may be supplemented by more detailed agreements in specific areas of cooperation. The United States and the EU have successfully developed their cooperation on this basis, and continue to do so.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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