Thursday

13th Aug 2020

France calls summit on EU-Russia relations

The French EU presidency has called an emergency summit on EU-Russia relations for 1 September, as Russian troops continue to occupy parts of Georgia despite EU pressure.

The Brussels summit will take place "following the demands of many member states" and will be devoted to EU "aid to Georgia and the future of its relations with Russia," a French communique said on Sunday.

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  • Sarkozy (l) appears to be losing patience with Russia (Photo: kremlin.ru)

The move follows a telephone call between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday, in which Mr Sarkozy fruitlessly urged Russia to withdraw from the Georgian towns of Poti and Senaki.

On Sunday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said on national TV that "Russia has not yet fulfilled its commitment to the six-point peace plan [on withdrawal to pre-conflict positions]," adding "Russia's credibility is at stake."

The Russian army began to pull back from Georgia on Friday at a "snail's pace" in the words of one US general, with armed Russian checkpoints still controlling access to key parts of western and northern Georgia on Sunday evening.

Moscow plans to station 2,600 troops in "security zones" around the borders of breakaway Georgian regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with the Russian parliament on Monday to consider recognising the two territories as independent states.

Russia has also indicated that EU calls to replace Russian "peacekeepers" with OSCE or EU-hatted monitors in future must first gain Abkhaz and South Ossetian approval, with the rebel leaders preferring Russian soldiers instead.

Russia attacked Georgia on 7 August after Georgia launched an assault on Russian-backed rebels in South Ossetia, in a conflict that has claimed at least 400 lives and created 158,000 refugees.

EU policy shifting

The French summit call marks a shift in EU policy, with France previously ignoring a Polish demand for a top-level meeting on the Georgia crisis in case EU condemnation of Russia's actions damaged EU peacemaking efforts.

Former communist EU states, backed by the UK and Sweden, have suggested freezing EU-Russia partnership treaty and visa-free travel talks, keeping Russia out of the WTO and boycotting the 2014 winter Olympics in Russia as potential sanctions.

Germany has spoken out against suspending the EU-Russia negotiations, however. An Infratest Dimap poll on Friday also showed 58 percent of Germans don't want Georgia to join NATO for fear of endangering German-Russian relations.

Meanwhile, think-tank The International Crisis Group has advised EU states to warn Russia "at the most senior level" that it risks forfeiting WTO and G8 membership and the 2014 Olympics if it does not withdraw from Georgia.

But the NGO says the EU should seriously discuss Russia's proposal to create a new "Treaty on European Security" alongside NATO and to "deepen dialogue and cooperation" with Moscow, if it respects the Georgia ceasefire terms.

The European Council on Foreign Relations urges the EU to avoid a "punitive approach" on Moscow, working instead with Russia, Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia to develop trade and democratic institutions across the conflict region.

Aid efforts

The European Commission has so far released €6 million of aid for Georgia, with France, Sweden, Austria, Poland and other eastern EU states delivering 300 tents, 10,000 sleeping bags and 35,000 bandages as well as medication, fire extinguishers and dry food.

The relief effort is focusing on women and children in the towns of Tskhinvali and Gori. Part of the funds is to be spent on mine clearance, with mine blasts destroying a Georgian fuel train and killing one woman near Gori on Sunday.

The US has also been pouring aid into Georgia, with American destroyer the USS McFaul docking in the Georgian port of Batumi on Sunday with 55 tonnes of humanitarian supplies and with two more warships set to arrive in the coming week.

"It means that nobody in the world will allow [Russian prime minister] Putin's Russia to mess around in Georgia [any more]," Georgian defence minister Davit Kezerashvili commented on Georgian TV on the US naval move .

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