Thursday

18th Apr 2019

EU and Russia launch new talks on former Soviet states

  • Barroso (r) on EU-Russia summits: 'It should not be considered as a show: It's a process' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU and Russia have launched new talks to reassure the Kremlin that free trade pacts with former Soviet countries will not harm Russia’s economic interests.

EU officials made the announcement at a summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Brussels on Tuesday (28 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

They launched the “technical-level bilateral consultations” in the context of the uprising in Ukraine, which erupted after the country abandoned an EU trade treaty following Russian threats.

EU Council chairman Herman Van Rompuy said they did not discuss Ukraine in detail because they talked about broader EU-Russia relations instead.

But a slip of the tongue indicated what he thinks about the gravity of the situation.

“We didn’t enter into details of the very recent revolutions, even evolutions, in Ukraine,” he said.

For his part, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso indicated the new consultations will have a political mission despite their “technical” nature.

“We need to change the perception that one region’s gain is another region’s pain. We are against the mentality of bloc against bloc,” he said.

But Putin noted he continues to mistrust the EU initiative.

“There is a need for us to check our watches, so to speak, to bring our experts together to review existing misunderstandings,” he said.

“Our reading of the [EU-Ukraine] agreement … was that it looks like a back door to infiltrate our automotive industry,” he added, referring to treaty provisions that EU car exports to Ukraine could be re-exported to Russia tariff-free if it went ahead.

The press briefing is likely to have disappointed Ukrainian activists looking for EU support.

The new bilateral talks sound similar to a previous proposal to hold trilateral talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine, giving Russia a role in deciding the future of its former Soviet dominions.

Neither Van Rompuy or Barroso challenged Putin when he said the EU should not interfere in Ukraine by speaking to protesters in Kiev, or when he linked activists to racism and anti-Semitism.

They also stayed silent when he made fresh, albeit veiled, threats about Ukraine’s economy.

Asked if Russia will uphold its recent deal on lower gas prices if the opposition comes to power, he said he cannot guarantee it because he agreed the terms with Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who resigned on Tuesday.

He also noted that Ukraine owes him $2.7 billion in gas debts.

On the situation inside Russia, Van Rompuy said they did not discuss human rights abuses because the issue is handled by regular meetings of low-level officials.

Amid some EU leaders’ plans to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month, he added: “I expressed my best wishes for a successful Winter Olympics in Sochi.”

The two sides signed a joint declaration on combating terrorism.

They also voiced hope the EU and Russia could conclude a new bilateral accord, replacing the 1990s treaty which currently governs relations, by June.

Barroso admitted that Tuesday's talks did not amount to much.

Noting that the EU and Russia have not even agreed how to handle fees for European airlines flying over Siberia to Asia since the problem arose in 2004, he said: “It’s not spectacular. I’m sorry.”

But he defended the practice of holding twice-yearly meetings: “This should not be considered as a show. It’s a process where two mature partners discuss issues on which they are close, and on which they are not so close.”

Speaking to EUobserver earlier this month, Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski also underlined that EU countries, such as Poland, and Russia have a “booming commercial relationship.”

But he spoke more frankly on divisive issues than Van Rompuy or Barroso.

“We think it is unacceptable for Russia to put the kind of pressure that she did on Ukraine,” he said.

He added that fine words in summits or in EU strategy papers on Russia rarely amount to much: “The real problem with [our] Russia policy is that we agree and declare one thing, and then some member states and institutions do something else."

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us