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EU will resume negotiations with Russia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Wednesday, November 12
The summit of EU Foreign Ministers has taken the decision to resume the talks about a partnership agreement with the Russian Federation suspended on September 1.

The press release published on November 10 in Brussels states that despite the fact that “the conflict in Georgia has affected the trust which is necessary for the partnership between the European Union and Russia, for the Union, dialogue and negotiation are the best means of pursuing its aims, furthering its principles and values.” It also points out that the resumption of the negotiations will “in no way legitimize the status quo in Georgia, or Russian action contrary to our values and principles.”

“All the clauses regarding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and the implementation of the agreements of 12 August and 8 September, as set out in the Council conclusions of 1 September and 15 and 16 October, remain valid and relevant, including those concerning access to certain areas. Russia must continue to implement its commitments and enter constructively into the international discussions which have begun in Geneva. We continue to fully support the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia,” says the Brussels statement.

The EU-Russia negotiations were suspended until the Russian troops which occupied Georgian territory in August were withdrawn to the positions they held before the conflict. Russia announced a withdrawal on October 9, however Russian soldiers still remain in several Georgian towns and villages near the breakaway regions’ administrative borders and in those regions themselves, where they were not deployed prior to the conflict. The withdrawal was conducted according to the ceasefire agreement signed in August by the Presidents of Russia and France, also called the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement. On September 8, Russia and EU agreed to replace the Russian ‘peacekeepers’ in Georgia with the unarmed EU Monitoring Mission.

Georgia’s Prime Minister Grigol Mgaloblishvili, speaking on November 10, appealed to Europe not to conduct “business as usual with Russia” and warned that this would only “encourage the Russian Federation to continue its aggressive actions against Georgia and Europe’s eastern neighbourhood.”

“There can be no doubt that today Russia is in direct violation of the Sarkozy-brokered, EU ceasefire agreement. Georgia today remains a nation forcibly occupied by a foreign force. Specifically, full implementation of the ceasefire agreement requires that Russia withdraw its forces from Akhalgori and the Kodori Valley… reverse its sharp military buildup in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where more than 10,000 troops (nearly treble the force there prior to August 7) are now building illegal military bases, grant unfettered access to Georgia’s occupied regions to international observers, …. provide security guarantees for ethnic Georgians in the occupied territories and participate in good faith in the Geneva talks,” stated the Prime Minister.

Making a joint statement on November 10, the heads of the Foreign Ministries of Sweden and Great Britain declared their support for the resumption of talks with Russia. “Sweden and the UK welcome the fact that Russian troops have withdrawn from the areas adjacent to the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in a way that has enabled EU monitors to start to deploy,” the joint statement reads. “However, we are deeply concerned that Russia has not yet withdrawn to its pre-7 August positions as the EU has made clear that it must. We therefore urge Russia to fully implement both the 12 August and 8 September EU-brokered peace agreements. We are also concerned that OSCE as well as EU monitors have still been prevented from entering South Ossetia,” stated the Ministers. However they still consider that the start of the talks is necessary because “the issues that will be covered [in an agreement] are in the EU's interests as well as Russia's.”

At the discussion of this decision in Brussels, Georgia’s traditional partners, Poland and the Baltic countries, which originally supported the postponing of the negotiations, seemed to change their minds. Foreign Minister of Poland Radoslaw Sikorski said that talks with Russia “should restart at the very end of this month or the first half of next month.” The only EU country that was against the decision was Lithuania. "We think this is a mistake. History will show who was right and who was not,” Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Zygimantas Pavilionis told AFP news agency on November 11.

No consensus of EU’s 27 member states was needed to restart the talks, as the European Commission already has a relevant mandate. AFP also quoted French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner as saying that “26 out of 27 is not so bad as a majority, and secondly it was not even necessary to vote.”

Georgian independent political analyst Ramaz Sakvarelidze considers that EU decision to resume talks doesn’t mean that Georgia has lost EU support; however it shows that “Europe has its interests too.” “Georgia has to understand that confrontation with Russia is not easy. The model that they [the Georgian Government] have chosen, to seek protection from nasty Russia by mighty European states, is not so easy to gain support for. It makes the issue look more like a kids’ fight,” considers the analyst. “Russian actions were bold enough before this decision and they will become even bolder after it. However I consider that the world economic crisis and the problems caused by it in Russia itself will make Moscow consider more or less compromises,” said Sakvarelidze, talking to The Messenger.