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  Samara: new friendship or a serious conflict?

Darius Varanavičius, political scientist, executive editor of the magazine "The State"
2007 05 23

After the recent growing political tension, a European Union-Russia summit in Samara should become a release, which might acquire both positive and negative aspects.

Certain tenseness between the EU and Russia has been developing for several years. Therefore it could be quite logical to specify certain issues in Samara, since further development of bilateral relations of the EU and Russia without the establishment of new strategic guidelines might acquire more aggressive forms.

In fact, not only Russia sticks to firm positions. Negotiations on a new Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between the EU and Russia have been vetoed by Poland; Lithuania has also expressed its intention to support the position of Poland.

Samara Summit might reveal not only confrontation between Russia and the EU, but also disagreements between the EU Member States, since it turned out that Western countries do not actually understand  the painful attitude of Central and Eastern European countries towards Russia.

The above perspectives might be reinforced by the replacement of certain EU leaders. Russia is also on the eve of the presidential elections, however, radical changes in the state‘s orientation will hardly take place; it is even more difficult to expect the return to democracy.

Another important aspect in terms of possible decisions in the sphere of relationship between the EU and Russia are the words of the Estonian President T.Ilves, that „the EU‘s energy policy is inadequate and naive“. The EU still cannot establish a uniform position on import of the Russian energy sources. Therefore unilateral initiatives on disconnection from the Russian energy system (touched upon by the Estonian President) instead of consolidation of the EU might provide an additional pretext of the Russian discontent, which might result in the principle „divide-and-rule“.

It is also interesting that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany himself arrived to Russia to calm down the situation before the Samara Summit. Officially it is easy to justify this by Germany’s EU presidency, however, we should not forget that bi-lateral relations of this country with Russia in the sphere of energy is one of the most problematic links in view of establishing a single EU energy policy.

Nonetheless, one can guess that efforts will be made so as to avoid particular emotions in Samara, and that decisions would be of a general character and not implying radical changes. Therefore the relationship between the EU and Russia might further develop according to the current scenario, which cannot be referred to as effective not only because of turned off taps, „broken“ pipelines and railways, but also because of embargo on foodstuffs.

Beside the above disagreements, there is also a more extensive geopolitical contraposition, which was well revealed in Ukraine, when its pro-European approaches have been quickly re-oriented via a jump of gas prices. Moreover, everybody remembers out-of-a-sudden sympathies of the Byelorussian president to Europe, which due to unpublicized reasons have suddenly ended as well.

The fact that an argument that the Baltic States „are purely Russian lands“ is escalated in Russia with no scruple, also indicates that engines of the Russian regional policy are not only scattered emotions (the case of Estonia), gas supply (Ukraine, Austria, Hungary, Belarus), supply of oil (Lithuania and Estonia) or embargo on foodstuffs (Poland). All this most probably are tactical instruments for realization of strategic objectives, which hardly are in accordance with the declared good neighborhood.

Yet, it is not clear on whether this contraposition would acquire actual political forms in Samara or we will have to wait for new confrontations.

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