Europe Weighs Future With Russia

Lisa Bryant

As divisions intensify between the West and Russia over the crisis in Georgia, the European Union (EU), finds itself in the role of main mediator and peace broker. Lisa Bryant reports from Paris, some experts say the states of the former Soviet Union - notably Georgia and Ukraine - are crucial to the EU's future.

The crisis in Georgia has been a top priority for the European Union in recent weeks.  In August, French President Nicolas Sarkozy - the current EU president - shuttled between Moscow and Tbilisi to cobble a six-point peace deal to end a conflict over the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. 

Mr. Sarkozy returned to both capitals earlier this month [Monday 9/8/08] to secure Russia's commitment to abide by the deal.

At about the same time, EU leaders met in Paris [Tuesday 9/9/08] with the president of another key former Soviet republic - Ukraine.  The talks ended with an EU offer to establish a special partnership agreement with Kiev. But the 27-member block did not offer Ukraine EU membership.

President Sarkozy said a partnership agreement with Ukraine was as far as Europe was prepared to go at the moment.

Both Georgia and Ukraine aspire to join the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO.  But Moscow considers both countries within its sphere of influence.  And Europe is divided over how close it wants to be with Tbilisi and Kyiv.

During a NATO meeting in April, Georgia and Ukraine were denied a fast track entry into the transatlantic alliance - but promised membership at an unspecified future date.  Neither is guaranteed to become part of the European Union.

But Andrew Wilson, an expert on Russia and Eastern Europe at the European Council on Foreign Affairs, says the EU is moving closer to bringing both countries into its fold.

"Some EU member states, NATO member states, concluded we made a mistake back in April and should have offered a membership action plan to both countries and that we sent the wrong signal to Russia by not doing so.  Some conclude the exact opposite.  But overall, I think the balance of power, the balance of opinion has shifted within the EU, within NATO, toward more positive treatment for both [Georgia and Ukraine]," said Wilson.

Experts say the EU is also treading carefully on issues involving Russia, which supplies a quarter of Western Europe's natural gas.  At an EU summit on the Georgian crisis earlier this month, European leaders refrained from considering tough measures such as sanctions against Moscow for not fully withdrawing from Georgian territory.

For the moment, says Amanda Akcakoca, a policy analyst at the European Policy Center in Brussels, Europe has limited leverage over Moscow.

"It's probably true that at least in the short-to-medium term, the EU probably doesn't have that much influence over Russia," said Akcakoca. "Russia really holds most of the cards, which is why the EU has really come up with a mild response toward Russia.  Even if you managed to get unity within the response, there are still an awful lot of divisions - principally because of a number of member states being reliant on Russian energy."

The divisions between Russia and the West have raised concerns about a new Cold War developing.  But analyst Amanda Akcakoca downplays such a scenario.

"I think the only similarity is that during the Cold War, Europe really played an excellent role in keeping the channels of communications open [with Russia] and this is what Europe is doing now, whereas other countries, particularly the United States, haven't really gone down that road," said Akcakoca.

Still, most analysts say Europe needs to decide how much to commit itself to Georgia and Ukraine.  As it debates whether to expend its membership to include Turkey, the EU must also decide how far to move into Eastern Europe.

Some experts warn that the EU's eastward expansion risks conflict with Russia.  But Andrew Wilson of the European Council on Foreign Affairs argues for a combination of what he calls "strategic disengagement" with Russia and engagement with former Soviet Satellites.

"To keep Russia at arms length and to impose, for example, stricter finance regulations on Russia in western markets.  But also, most importantly, to engage much more positively in the European neighborhood," said Wilson.

Europe's means might be limited right now, Wilson says, but in the long term, it is much more powerful than it thinks - especially as it begins to diversify its energy sources.  

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs