The European Union has changed its chairing state on July 1. Sweden will chair the union for six months from now. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt declared the priorities of its chairmanship on June 22. The struggle against the world crisis is the most important one of them. Other interests of the new chairing state may affect the EU’s relations with Russia.
“We will continue supporting the Eastern Partnership Program [the EU’s program for special cooperation with six members of the former USSR without Russia’s participation] and hope to achieve progress in the talks with Ukraine about the associated membership agreement in the European Union. We hope that it will lead to the creation of the free trade zone, which will be of huge importance for the future,” Bildt said.
The relations between Russia and Sweden can not be described as cloudless. For example, the Swedes refuse to support the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Swedish politicians say Russian special services may use gas-distribution stations (the project stipulates their construction) to spy on Sweden.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt criticized Russia in August and September of 2008 for its reaction to Georgia’s aggression in South Ossetia. Sweden , Poland and the Baltic States demanded the signing of the new Russia-EU agreement be delayed. The talks resumed only in November of 2008.
Sweden was one of the authors of the above-mentioned Eastern Partnership Program, which stipulates the establishment of special relations between the EU, Blarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Caucasian states.
In general, Russia has absolutely no reason to hope for any improvement of relations with the European Union during Sweden’s chairmanship.
Natalia Antyushina, a senior specialist with the Center for Northern Europe, believes that all Scandinavian countries are traditionally unfriendly to Russia. Sweden, Norway and Finland criticized Russia for the war of 2008.
“This is a standard set of accusations. Spy scandals would occur in Sweden on a regular basis during the Cold War. The Swedish authorities claimed that Soviet submarines were spying on their country. They later acknowledged, though, that their accusations were groundless.
“Unlike Finland and Norway, Sweden is much less dependent on its commercial relations with Russia. The commodity circulation between the two countries is tiny – it does not exceed one percent of the nation’s total turnover of sales. Sweden buys much of its oil and gas from Norway, not Russia. In addition, Sweden actively develops the program of hydrocarbon-free economy which gives the nation an opportunity to weaken its dependence on the export of oil and gas and to improve the local ecology. As long as Sweden does not depend on Russia much, the country can afford harsh criticism of Moscow,” the specialist said.
“Sweden’s current goal as the chairing state is to struggle against the economic crisis. This country has an extensive experience at this point. Sweden suffered from the bank crisis in the beginning of the 1990s and overcame it successfully. It is worthy of note that Sweden is not a member of NATO, although it is a very strong and powerful country from the point of view of defense. The nation produces almost all types of arms. It is one of the world’s largest exporters of arms too, but it has not applied for NATO membership yet.”