The EU and Russia

Advocates for a more punitive line will probably find the EU’s declaration on the Russia-Georgia crisis (.pdf) unsatisfactory. But as Christophe Barbier of l’Express notes in this French-language video editorial, Europe isn’t really in a position to “punish” Russia. He likens the situation to a virile negotiation or an arm-wrestling match, and judging from the EU’s declaration, that seems to be the approach the Union is taking:

The European Council considers that given the interdependence between the European Union and Russia, and the global problems they are facing, there is no desirable alternative to a strong relationship, based on cooperation, trust and dialogue, respect for the rule of law and the principles recognised by the United Nations Charter and by the OSCE.

While acknowledging the right of member nations to conduct their own foreign policy, the declaration freezes the negotiations for the Union-wide partnership agreement with Russia. Moscow’s response? Far short of alarmed:

“We’ve had to wait 18 months for the EU to get itself ready,” said Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov. “We don’t need these talks or this new agreement any more than the EU does.”

Russia is also blocking for the time being the EU’s effort to deploy an EU force to the breakaway provinces, instead proposing that they deploy under the OSCE mandate currently in place. The difference, of course, being that Russia is a member of the OSCE.

Nevertheless, the declaration is not only the best the EU can do for the time being, it is far from a throwaway, as demonstrated by the fact that it enjoyed the support of both England and Poland on the one hand and Germany on the other. It also represents a success for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has methodically managed the crisis step by step, beginning with brokering the ceasefire and now navigating its application. The latter, while far from guaranteed and challenged bya globally weak bargaining position, depended on a show of EU unity, and he got it. He’s off to Moscow next week for the next phase of the negotiations.

Ultimately, the Russians will have to show their hand, and my hunch is that they will give Sarkozy the kind of political success he cherishes next by by honoring the terms of the ceasefire and pulling back to their pre-invasion lines. They’ve accomplished everything they possibly can through the use of force for the moment at little price, and now risk more longterm costs if they don’t demonstrate a willingness to cooperate.