News

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.
Comments
     
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.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs