Thursday

13th May 2021

EU expanding its 'sphere of influence,' Russia says

  • Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov sees spheres of influence in Europe (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Eastern Partnership is an EU attempt to expand its "sphere of influence" in the quest for hydrocarbons, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has said, in Moscow's first major broadside against the new policy.

"We are accused of having spheres of influence. But what is the Eastern Partnership, if not an attempt to extend the EU's sphere of influence, including to Belarus," the minister said on Saturday (21 March) at the Brussels Forum, a high-level symposium.

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

He added that the Czech EU presidency and the European Commission are putting undue pressure on Belarus by suggesting it might be marginalised if it follows Russia in recognising the independence of Georgian breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"Is this promoting democracy or is it blackmail? It's about pulling countries from the positions they want to take as sovereign states," Mr Lavrov said.

The EU on Friday formally launched the Eastern Partnership, a €600 million policy to forge closer political and trade links with six former Soviet countries - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Azerbaijan and Georgia are important for the EU's pursuit of alternative gas and oil import routes from the Caspian Sea region. Belarus also hosts a major gas pipeline system.

The invitation of Belarus leader Lukashenko to an Eastern Partnership launch summit in May and the pace of EU-Belarus rapprochement in the partnership process continue to hang in the balance, however. Czech foreign minister Karl Schwarzenberg in February said it would be "difficult" to make progress if Minsk takes the Russian line on Georgia.

Mr Lavrov's choice of words on Saturday was piquant, with former-Communist EU members often accusing Moscow of blackmailing its neighbours or thinking in terms of Cold War-era spheres.

He said Russia has special relations with eastern European countries because of "hundreds of years of common history" and Russia's open labour market.

Sweden, the co-author of the Eastern Partnership project together with Poland, rejected Mr Lavrov's position as "completely unacceptable."

"The Eastern Partnership is not about spheres of influence. The difference is that these countries themselves opted to join," Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt told EUobserver at the Brussels Forum.

The EU's position on Georgia is not 'blackmail' but "is about upholding the principles of the EU and international law, which Russia should also be respecting," he added.

'Appeasement won't work'

The Lavrov speech should dispel the idea that Russia will agree to a formula of more EU, less NATO for its former vassals, according to EU and NATO-aspirant Georgia.

"Mr Lavrov just confirmed that whatever choices Eastern European countries make, be it NATO or EU, they are not acceptable to Russia. Moscow continues to see the Euro-atlantic aspirations of these countries as an attempt to leave its sphere of influence," Georgian minister for reintegration Temuri Yakobashvili told this website.

"The fact that Russia sees the European Partnership as a zero-sum game proves wrong those who believe that giving up NATO aspirations would solve the problems with Moscow. Appeasing Russia will not work."

Ukraine, home to a large ethnic-Russian minority hostile to NATO expansion, is taking a more nuanced approach.

"There is a difference, NATO has a huge legacy from the bipolar world of the Cold war, which the EU does not have," Ukraine deputy premier Hryhoriy Nemyria said.

"The strategic priority of our country is integration in the EU. This is the way to modernise our country and we welcome the Eastern Partnership policy, because it uses de facto the same instruments as for EU candidates. We know it's not about membership, but membership is also not completely ruled out for the future."

News in Brief

  1. No EUobserver newsletter on Friday 14 May
  2. Germany stops Facebook gathering WhatsApp data
  3. Italy rebuts reports of EU deal with Libya
  4. MEPs demand EU states protect women's reproductive rights
  5. At least nine dead in Russia school shooting
  6. Bulgaria interim government appointed until July election
  7. German priests defy pope to bless same-sex couples
  8. New EU public prosecutor faults Slovenia

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 MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU aims at 'zero pollution' in air, water and soil by 2050
  2. French police arrest Luxembourg former top spy
  3. Vaccine drives spur better-than-expected EU economic recovery
  4. Slovenia causing headaches for new EU anti-graft office
  5. 'No place to hide' in Gaza, as fighting escalates
  6. EU chases 90m AstraZeneca vaccines in fresh legal battle
  7. Fidesz MEP oversees FOI appeals on disgraced Fidesz MEP
  8. Belgium outlines summer Covid relaxation plans

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us