25th Aug 2019

German rebuke sets up tense EU-Russia summit

  • Moscow: risks entering a "spiral of mistrust" with Europe, Germany says (Photo: wikipedia)

The German EU presidency and the European Commission have rebuked Russia for upholding its ban on Polish food imports days ahead of the EU-Russia summit in Samara, with Moscow also facing criticism for "attacks" on Estonia and anti-democratic backsliding at home.

"The time has come for Russia to give a date for when the [Polish] embargo will be lifted," German Europe minister Günter Gloser said at the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday (9 May), adding "it [the EU-Russia summit] shouldn't fail on a technicality."

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Russia's 18-month long food ban last year saw Poland veto the launch of negotiations on a new EU-Russia treaty, saying Moscow was using trade as a political weapon. The Polish position has since been backed up by commission experts, who say there are no safety grounds for the embargo.

Mr Gloser also referred to Russia's recent actions against Estonia as "an attack on the sovereignty of an EU member state" and pledged Berlin's "full support" for Tallinn, after mobs besieged the Estonian embassy in Moscow and Russian MPs called on the Estonian president to resign.

The row - sparked by Tallinn's decision to remove a Soviet-era WWII statue from its city centre - continues to rumble on, with Vladimir Putin on Wednesday condemning people who "desecrate memorials to war heroes" and with Russia blocking road and rail traffic to Estonia.

In an uncharacteristic tone for a member of the German socialist party - which is traditionally Russia-friendly - Mr Gloser also said "We are concerned about freedom of the media and civil society. The way demonstrators were recently dealt with in Moscow, St Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod has not gone down well."

'Spiral of mistrust'

"Everything must be done to avoid a spiral of mistrust [in EU-Russia relations]," the minister went on. "The modernisation of Russia will only be possible if rule of law and democracy are respected."

"There are many points of tension between the EU and Russia, we disagree on many points," European Commission vice-president Günter Verheugen added, mentioning the future status of Kosovo, Moscow's threat to enter a new conventional arms race and its wobbly energy supplies to Europe as other lines of division.

The commissioner called Russia's food ban on Poland "disproportionate and unjustified" and said "never again will we allow anybody to drive a wedge, or try to drive a wedge between the EU and one of its member states" on Russia's approach to Estonia.

In terms of the agenda for the 17 and 18 May summit in Samara, on the eastern bank of the Volga river, Brussels hopes Moscow will agree to set up an early-warning system for potential gas and oil supply shocks and come on board with the EU's new CO2 emissions cut targets.

Prickly summit agenda

The two sides will also talk about sending OSCE observers to Russian presidential elections next year, Moscow's crackdown on free media and NGOs, human rights abuses in Chechnya and Russia's role in the so-called "frozen conflicts" in Moldova and the South Caucasus.

The EU's criticism on Wednesday of its giant eastern neighbour was offset by references to Russia as Europe's "strategic partner" and mutual "interdependence." Germany's Mr Gloser also talked about "realism" and "strategic patience" in terms of prospects for EU values in Russia.

The European Parliament discussion fell on Russia's VE day, which saw celebrations on the Red Square in Moscow where Mr Putin gave a speech about Russia's defeat of the Third Reich. Afterwards, 7,000 soldiers - 1,000 more than in 2006 - marched by and nine jet fighters flew overhead, the BBC reports.

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