UPDATE 1-EU faces tough test of unity on Russia
08.31.08, 1:14 PM ET
BRUSSELS, Aug 31 (Reuters) - The European Union will seek at an emergency summit on Monday to show a united front on Russia despite internal differences over whether Moscow should face consequences for its actions in Georgia.
EU leaders are set to issue a tough verbal condemnation of Moscow over the conflict in breakaway South Ossetia but France, Germany and others have blocked calls from eastern European states for a tougher stance, including possible punitive action.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Sunday the EU should not isolate Russia.
'The government in Moscow deserves criticism for its behavior but that doesn't change the fact that security and stability in Europe can only be achieved with and not against Russia,' Steinmeier said in a speech.
'Thus Europe would only be hurting itself if we were to get full of emotion and slam all the doors shut to the rooms that we will want to enter afterwards,' he said.
However, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose country has sympathised with calls from Poland, Sweden and Baltic states that Russia must face some consequences for its massive intervention in Georgia this month, sounded a tougher note.
'The EU should review -- root and branch -- our relationship with Russia,' Brown was quoted by Britain's Observer weekly as saying, adding it might be necessary to exclude Russia from Group of Eight (G8) meetings and review its ties with NATO.
Georgian Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili said EU sanctions were not 'pivotal' but urged the bloc to deter Russia from 'undertaking actions of similar nature in other states.'
'We trust the wisdom and the courage of the European Union to undertake the best available steps for that,' she told a news conference in Istanul.
NEW PARTNERSHIP DOUBTS
EU President France brokered a peace deal to end this month's conflict in South Ossetia after Russia sent in tanks and troops to quash a Georgian bid to re-take the rebel region.
But the 27-nation bloc has appeared on the back foot as the Kremlin has since kept soldiers and equipment in undisputed Georgian territory, and recognised the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia.
Interfax quoted Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as saying on Sunday Russia did not seek isolation from the West but would not reverse its decision to recognise Georgia's rebel regions.
In a compromise aimed at showing displeasure at Russia's actions while avoiding a direct confrontation with the bloc's biggest energy supplier, EU leaders are expected on Monday to say EU-Russia ties will depend on Moscow's future actions.
That will leave questions over a proposed new EU-Russia partnership pact, with some states arguing that a new round of negotiations scheduled for Sept. 15-16 should be postponed.
Diplomats said a final summit declaration would also call on Moscow to respect the terms of the peace accord, including a pull-back of troops to pre-conflict positions, and reaffirm support for Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
The bloc will also pledge reconstruction and other aid to Georgia, deeper ties including a free trade accord and easier visa regulations for its citizens. It will also signal that it is ready to launch a civilian monitoring mission on the ground.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt urged the EU to speed up plans for an 'Eastern Partnership' with former Soviet republics.
'I hope the initiative for an Eastern Partnership will gain new momentum now after the tragic events of recent weeks,' Bildt told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper of a plan launched this year to cooperate more with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and, subject to reforms, Belarus.
The EU has for years struggled for a common line on Russia, with largely Western capitals advocating engagement with Moscow while others in the east insisting on the need to be firm.
Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, insisted Moscow had no plans to use energy supplies as a political tool and brushed off suggestions that European capitals could push to exclude Russia from the G8 club of powerful nations.
'The EU is not in a position to throw Russia out from anywhere. Any attempt to isolate Russia would not only be short-sighted but unrealistic,' he told Reuters, adding that the prospect of any EU sanctions was 'highly improbable'.
(Additional reporting by Carsten Lietz and Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; Thomas Grove in Istanbul; Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow; editing by Robert Hart)Keywords: GEORGIA OSSETIA/EU
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