Sunday

26th Sep 2021

EU-Russia relations at low ebb, despite 'humour'

EU foreign ministers and Russia's Sergei Lavrov failed to find common ground on Ukraine at a meeting in Brussels on Monday (16 December).

Two of the EU delegates remarked that Lavrov was in good spirits.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"There was lots of humour, as always with Sergei Lavrov," the Netherlands' Frans Timmermans said.

"It was horribly polite. Sergei Lavrov said several times 'I'm in a good mood,' and I have seen him in a bad mood before at Nato meetings," Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn noted.

The EU side spent the lunchtime encounter telling him it would be good for both Russia and Ukraine if Ukraine signs a free trade treaty with the Union.

But Lavrov said Russia would be "flooded" with European products via Ukraine if the deal goes ahead.

He told press afterward: "It was our common agreement that everyone should respect the sovereignty of each nation, including Ukraine, and … allow people to make a free choice on how they want to develop."

He also said some EU ministers backed his idea of holding trilateral trade talks with the EU, Russia and Ukraine.

His statement on "sovereignty" comes after Russia threatened to bankrupt Ukraine with trade bans and gas debts if it signs the EU accord, however.

Meanwhile, Timmermans, for one, told media there is no chance of trilateral talks.

"I don't see why the EU, when it is negotiating with a third country, should invite a fourth country into those negotiations. I don't see that as an option," he noted.

Lavrov also criticised Sweden's Carl Bildt for being "unprofessional" after Bildt told press that Lavrov is spreading "fairly serious misinformation" on the negative impact of the EU-Ukraine pact.

On the broader question of how Ukraine has affected EU-Russia ties, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said: "I don't think Russian and EU relations are getting worse. Russia and the EU are strategic partners."

But the UK's William Hague noted that Ukraine has put a "strain" on the relationship.

For his part, Asselborn, a veteran of EU politics, said the EU and Russia see eye to eye on international issues, such as Afghanistan or Iran, "but as soon as we approach the [geographic] zone between Russia and the EU there is nervousness, there are problems."

He recalled that in 2005, the EU and Russia agreed to co-operate on the economy, justice, security and science - the "EU-Russia Common Spaces."

He said they did it in a "good atmosphere" in line with former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev's concept of creating a "Common European Home."

But looking back at the unproductive EU-Russia summits of recent years, Asselborn added: "Today we feel, at many levels, that we don't see this good co-operation any more."

Turning to Ukraine, EU ministers repeated that "the door remains open" for President Viktor Yanukovych to sign the treaty.

But they heaped doubt on his intention to do so.

Bildt and his Polish counterpart, Radek Sikorski, who masterminded the trade accord five years ago, said EU commissioner Stefan Fuele was right to declare on Sunday that he is freezing EU-Ukraine talks on reviving the pact.

Bildt accused Yanukovych of "doublespeak."

"In Vilnius, he said he was ready to sign in the near future. The other day, he said he was going to fire the people who negotiated the agreement. If you can make sense of that, of his policy, then you're welcome," he noted, referring to a summit in Vilnius last month.

Sikorski said: "In a situation in which the President of Ukraine says the association agreement is harmful to his country, there is need to pause for serious reflection."

He added that EU leaders will speak out on Ukraine at a summit in Brussels this week.

Opinion

EU should confront Russia on Ukraine

The Europeanisation of post-Soviet Europe will only happen when Russia is either forced to or decides to let it happen. 

News in Brief

  1. Italy arrests Puigdemont on Spanish warrant
  2. EU and US hold trade talks despite French wrath
  3. EMA to decide on Pfizer vaccine booster in October
  4. EU welcomes Polish TV-station move
  5. Ukrainian parliament passes law to curb power of oligarchs
  6. EU could force Poland to pay lignite-coal fine
  7. Report: EU and US concerned by tech-giants' power
  8. EU states sign 'transparency pledge'

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed

Latest News

  1. Activists: 'More deaths' expected on Polish-Belarus border
  2. EU unveils common charger plan - forcing Apple redesign
  3. Central Europe leaders rail against 'new liberal woke virus'
  4. Yemen's refugees in 'appalling conditions', says UN agency
  5. VW emissions software was illegal, top EU lawyer says
  6. Sexism and the selection of the European Parliament president
  7. More French names linked to Russia election-monitoring
  8. Negotiations set for new, tougher, EU ethics body

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us