EU leaders to paint Russia as unreliable partner

Possible action includes boycott of 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, holding off on talks for broader economic partnership with Moscow.

September 1, 2008 15:26
3 minute read.
EU leaders to paint Russia as unreliable partner

medvedev 224.88. (photo credit: AP)

EU leaders were meeting Monday to examine relations with Russia after its invasion of Georgia, but they have few punitive options to use against a neighbor that is a supplier of natural gas and oil to Western Europe. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi said the European Union summit being held in Brussels should be one that "looks to dialogue rather than confrontation." "I hope there will be unity in deciding not to impose sanctions on Russia," Berlusconi told Italian TV before leaving for Brussels. The 27 European leaders are expected to warn Moscow that normal relations are impossible with Russian troops violating a cease-fire agreement with Georgia. They also are likely to offer more humanitarian, economic and moral support for Georgia. Javier Solana said the EU would send a few hundred civilian observers to Georgia to monitor Russian forces, who have stayed there in violation - the EU and the US say - of a cease-fire negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Moscow warned the West on Monday against supporting Georgia's leadership, and called for an arms embargo against its small southern neighbor until Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's government is replaced. "If instead of choosing their national interests and the interests of the Georgian people, the United States and its allies choose the Saakashvili regime, this will be a mistake of truly historic proportions," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. However, Sarkozy urged the EU leaders to send a "clear and united message" to Moscow, saying in a pre-summit letter that the gathering was an "opportunity to "seriously examine relations between the European Union and Russia." France currently holds the rotating EU presidency. "Russia's commitment to a relationship of understanding and cooperation with the rest of Europe is in doubt," Sarkozy said in the letter to EU leaders. "It's up to Russia today to make a fundamental choice" about engaging its neighbors and partners in settling disputes peacefully. On Sunday, Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze asked the EU and the US to impose sanctions on companies and individuals doing business in its breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia without its permission. "What we are calling for is ... sanctions addressing those individuals, business and officials who by their actions, current or future, seek to somehow continue to violate our territorial integrity," Gurgenidze said in an interview with The Associated Press before going into meetings with EU officials. Gurgenidze was not scheduled to address the European leaders. On Aug. 7, Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia, hoping to retake the province, which broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s. Russian forces repelled the offensive and pushed into Georgia. Both sides signed a cease-fire deal in mid-August, but Russia has ignored its requirement for all forces to return to prewar positions. Moscow has insisted the cease-fire accord lets it run checkpoints in security zones of up to 4 miles into Georgian territory. Possible EU actions against Russia include a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi - a Russian city near the Georgian border - or holding off on talks for a broader economic partnership with Moscow. "If Russia continues in its policy, I can't imagine that the Olympics could take place there," Czech Vice Premier Alexandr Vondra said Sunday. Russia supplies the EU with a third of its oil and 40 percent of its natural gas - a dependence the European Commission says will rise significantly in the future. Germany relies on Russia for 34 percent of its oil imports and 36 percent of its natural gas consumption. Slovakia, Finland and Bulgaria depend on Russia for more than 90 percent of the gas that heats homes, cooks meals and powers factories. Poland and other eastern EU members are among the most dependent on Russian energy but with fresh memories of Soviet domination, their leaders have been pushing for a tough European stance. They are joined by Britain whose own oil and gas reserves make it less reliant on Russia. Britain has suggested Russia be expelled from the Group of Eight nations.

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