Monday

5th Dec 2016

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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."

Commission won't call Castro a dictator

The EU executive says that a statement decribing the former Cuban leader as a "hero for many" is balanced and suggests that the use of the word dictator by a commissioner doesn't reflect its position.

News in Brief

  1. EU dismisses euro crisis risk after Italian referendum
  2. Italy result poses no risk to the EU, Sapin says
  3. EU asked to clarify links to Iran executions
  4. Italian economy minister tipped as caretaker PM
  5. EU tells US tech giants to act faster against hate speech
  6. Iceland's Pirates in bid to form government
  7. Danes are the happiest workers, study says
  8. Talks on wholesale roaming rules to start

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  2. CESICESI Congress Focuses on Future of Work, Public Services and Digitalisation
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  4. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  5. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  6. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  7. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  8. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  9. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  10. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  11. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  12. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)

Latest News

  1. No euro crisis after Italian vote, says EU
  2. Austrian far-right: beaten, but not defeated
  3. Czech, Slovak MEPs 'shocked' by EU comments on Castro
  4. Italy and visa-free travel on EU agenda This WEEK
  5. Italy referendum spooks eurozone
  6. Optimistic liberals look for more influence
  7. What the EU will learn from Trump's Taiwan blunder
  8. Liberals ponder Verhofstadt's chances for parliament top post