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Russia and the EU Attempt to Remove Stumbling Blocks

Moscow is hosting an EU - Russia summit, the previous one was held in Rome last November.

Since then ten new members have joined the European Union against a background of uneven relations between Moscow and Brussels at times straining to the point of a crisis.

Implications of the accession of new countries to the EU were primary causes of discord between the European Union and Russia. The Kremlin linked the EU expansion to the East (and to the South, meaning the Greek part of Cyprus and Malta) with inevitable economic losses. The level of demanded compensation for them was roughly estimated at between $100 and $400 million a year. A list of demands included raising steel and grain quotas, providing a “full-fledged visa regime” for Russian citizens, more rights for the Russian minority in Latvia and Estonia, etc.

According to both sides, much has been done over the past six months  to eliminate the stumbling blocks, which were mainly of economic nature. According to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, an agreement signed on 27 April in Luxembourg between Russia and the EU is supposed to minimize all negative consequences of EU enlargement for Russia. Moreover, the EU is expected to declare that it will support Russia’s effort to enter the WTO. 

Unlike economic issues, political ones were not so streamlined, especially in respect of  Russia’s relations with new EU members Latvia and Estonia. “The attitude of the Baltic countries assumed towards Russia in political matters will be high on the agenda of talks with the above countries and their superiors in the EU and Nato”, said Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister. That was Moscow’s  reaction to a recent refusal of the Latvian ministry of foreign affairs to issue an entry visa to Mikhail Demurin, a deputy head of a Russian MFA department. He was to attend an international conference on political science held to cover  Russian-Latvian relations in the context of EU enlargement.

A couple of days ago Latvian parliament passed a new act restricting the rights of so-called “non-citizens”. These topics suggest that the discussion in Moscow will be lengthy and its outcome is hard to predict. 

No sooner had new ten members become EU members than its further expansion is being actively discussed. Every year, the queue of applicants for EU membership becomes longer. Perhaps, there is no country left in Europe that has not expressed its desire to join the EU. 

Brussels in every way encourages these aspirations. There is a programme to integrate the entire Mediterranean area (including the countries like Morocco and Lebanon) and the European part of the current CIS in place. Conditions for accession to the EU will vary from country to country. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, said on 1 May that it would be an expansion without institutions, i.e. new states will not be able to make political decisions affecting the life of the EU. 

Russia's accession to the EU is a matter of a future so distant that it may be regarded as hypothetical, so in the foreseeable future Russia cannot imagine being either a full-fledged or associated EU member, said Vladimir Chizhov. Russia in many respects is a self-sustained country in terms of both military strategy and own development, which, however, implies further interaction, in an economic sense too, with the EU. “Intensified cooperation, strategic partnership and a EU - Russia common space are our real objectives at present”, added V. Chizhov.

Translated by ZM

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