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Russia, EU Finalize Pact to Ease Expansion Impact - 2004-04-27


Russia has agreed that its cooperation pact with the European Union will cover the 10 new countries joining the bloc on Saturday, avoiding a potential diplomatic crisis, just as the EU undertakes its eastward expansion.

As the European Union enlarges, many of Russia's closest neighbors are being drawn into the western family of nations.

Russia has an existing Partnership and Cooperation agreement (PCA) with the EU, but earlier had resisted extending it automatically to the new members, amid concerns that it would lose trade privileges with some of the former Soviet-satellite states.

Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia join the EU on Saturday, along with Cyprus and Malta.

The agreement reached Tuesday provides some temporary measures to cushion the impact on Russia. It also drops customs duties on cargo shipments between Russia and Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea that will be surrounded by EU states. The agreement also eases the impact of anti-dumping duties and lowers trade tariffs.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that, as of May 1, the transport of cargo to and from Kaliningrad will be simpler and cheaper.

In a joint statement, Russia and the EU reaffirmed their commitment to ensure that enlargement will bring them closer together in a Europe without dividing lines.

Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, speaking for the EU presidency, hailed the accord.

"The extension of the PCA to the 10 acceding states would allow the enlarged European Union and the Russian Federation to benefit from the opportunities created by EU enlargement," said Mr. Cowen. "It will also facilitate cooperation in the framework of the PCA on the creation of the four common spaces - on economy, on freedom, security and justice, on external security, on research and education, including culture."

Moscow also had objections over the treatment of Russian minorities in some of the new EU member states. The EU pledged to guarantee language rights for Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia.

Both sides are now looking ahead to a May 21 EU-Russia summit to increase cooperation on economic matters, external security, research and justice and home affairs.

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