Have EU-Russian relations reached a crisis point?


The European Union is warning Russia that it must extend existing trade and political agreements to the central and eastern European countries set to join the bloc in May. Russia is balking on extending the so-called Partnership and Cooperation agreement but the EU says it may impose sanctions on the Moscow if it doesn't comply. Gerhard Mangott, Russia specialist from the University of Innsbruck looks at why won't Russia sign.

"Well technically speaking it's a formality. Russia should expect to accept an extension of the PCA signed in 1994, valid since 1997, to the countries acceding to the union on the first of May."

So why is it delaying on this?

"It's delaying because it wants to do a bargain. Certainly Russia will be negatively affected by the accession of several of its allies in Eastern Europe. It will lose money - about 400 million dollars."

The EU argues that it will pick it up elsewhere, that there will be other benefits.

"Well the Russians are not sure about that. It is definite that steel production, chemicals, grain, textiles and nuclear fuel will suffer due to the accession of these countries to the EU because the tariffs get higher. It's definitely not sure that Russia will not lose. Russia has lost considerably when Finland joined the union in 1995 and that's an experience that they are now recalling and saying, well yes, at that time you said we are going to be on the positive side of EU enlargement and it turned out that we lost considerably in terms of market share in Finland. And that's what they are worried about now in Central and Eastern Europe."

And we're talking about a lot of countries, important countries, like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia. That whole sweep of Central Europe in fact.

"Absolutely, it is about 14% of Russian trade now going to these EU 8 in Central Europe."

Trade is dominating this dispute between the EU and Russia but I wonder if there is something deeper. Do you see a serious deterioration in relations between the EU and Russia?

"Absolutely it is more than trade. The European Union has decided now to be worried about what happens in Russia's domestic politics, with regard to Chechnya, with regard to the rule of law, corruption, media and the like. And that's basically the same as the United States has raised over the last two months. The question is why does it happen now, because these things could have been criticized one, two or three years ago. And even in the 90's under Yeltsin. It seems to me it's a bit trendy at the moment, Russia bashing, and I think the EU has to be careful not to speak only about values, not to speak only about Russian domestics, but to look after its interests. We must not forget that the Russians are the ones who supply the West European countries with gas and oil. And we need, for establishing a stable and secure Europe, Russian cooperation. So we should not alienate the Russian federation and we should not, as the European Union, overestimate our impact on Russian domestic politics if we raise these concerns."

Russia does not have too many friends among the new member states. Is Russia worried about the opinions and attitudes they bring into the European Union?

"Well Russia is worried about the new member countries of the EU. The Russians have established fairly good relations with the old member countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom. But of course, as you said, the countries in East and Central Europe that are now joining the EU are fiercely anti Russian and the Russians are afraid that if they give up their bargaining chip, linking PCA extension and a new trade regime between the EU and the Russian federation now, they would lose because once these new members are in they will try to move the European Union even further in an anti-Russian, or Russian critical course."