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Living together - Combining diversity and freedom in 21st-century Europe [Report of the Group of Eminent Persons of the Council of Europe] PDF DOWNLOAD >>

DOCUMENTARIO DEDICATO DA AL-JAZEERA ALLA LEADER RADICALE EMMA BONINO

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>> The Financial Times


EU MUST BE UNITED AND FIRM ON RUSSIA

The Financial Times - September 1, 2008 The war in Georgia, short and bloody as it was, has called into question the whole relationship between Russia and its neighbours in the European Union, as well as relations with the US and Nato. Gordon Brown, the UK prime minister, says there should be a “root and branch” review of all aspects. There are divided views in the EU on whether outright sanctions on Russia are justified for invading Georgia and recognising the independence of the secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But all the European leaders meeting for an emergency summit in Brussels on Monday seem to agree that there must and will be “consequences” for Russia’s refusal to recognise the sovereignty and integrity of its neighbour. For a start, they must send a clear message. The first challenge for the EU is to maintain a united front, essential to carry any weight in Moscow. Those feeling most threatened by Russia’s behaviour – the Baltic republics and Poland – want sanctions. Those depending on Russian oil and gas, led by Germany and Italy, argue for engagement. Those who do not depend on Russia for energy – such as the UK, France and Spain – are less vulnerable and less concerned. But a Russia that ignores the sovereignty and integrity of a neighbouring state should be a concern to them all. Monday’s meeting in Brussels will be too short for a thorough debate on the future of EU-Russia relations. No doubt the EU leaders will issue a strong condemnation of Russia’s actions, including Moscow’s failure to observe the full terms of the ceasefire agreed with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president. They will propose a humanitarian package for the thousands of Georgian refugees who have fled those territories, and money to help rebuild what has been destroyed. That is the easy part. The next step is to get Russia to withdraw from Georgian territory, and put international monitors and eventually peacekeepers in their place. It is hard to see Moscow in its present mindset agreeing to withdraw its troops from the secessionist regions. But at least it should allow access for humanitarian agencies and military monitors. So far neither can get into the conflict zone. Just dealing with the immediate crisis is not enough. Russia’s actions in Georgia have alarmed all the former Soviet republics with Russian minority populations, including the Baltic republics (all members of the EU) and Ukraine (which is not). The old EU members should show more solidarity with the new members who are threatened. One way would be to beef up energy security. Intensifying work on alternative energy to oil and gas, and finding new sources of supply is one thing. Building cross-border links and storage facilities inside the EU to guarantee that no member can be threatened by a Russian gas cut is most urgent. All EU members should work harder to reduce reliance on Russian supplies. In the long run, Russia may be punished more by the markets than by any sanctions. Private Russian corporate borrowing has been increasing sharply as public debt is reduced, and now the terms for such loans are getting tougher. It is important to bring home to Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev just how isolated Russia is, politically and commercially, because of their actions. Backing from Belarus and Venezuela is all they have got. But why has Russia not been suspended from the Council of Europe, an organisation based on respect for human rights? The EU may also halt negotiations on a new partnership agreement. It should not suspend the old one. Engagement is still essential. But the rules of that engagement must be civilised and mutually agreed. By its actions in Georgia, Russia is trying unilaterally to redefine the rules of the game. That can never be acceptable to an organisation like the EU, based on compromise and consensus.





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