17th Aug 2022

Polish meat row part of wider EU-Russia divide

  • A steak: the Russia-Polish meat problem is just one of many standing between the two sides (Photo: Wikipedia)

The European Commission failed to persuade Russia to lift its 16-month old ban on Polish meat imports during high-level talks this weekend, amid worsening EU-Russia relations four weeks before the EU-Russia summit in Samara.

"Our colleague from Russia...feels there should be more steps to be taken," EU health commissioner Markos Kyprianou said in Cyprus on Sunday (22 April) after two days of talks with his Russian opposite number, Reuters reports.

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"Our European counterparts expected more from these negotiations, but our prime interest is to restore order in the meat market," Russian farm minister Alexei Gordeyev indicated, prompting a swift reaction from Poland.

"Everything remains as before," Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in Warsaw on Sunday night, Polish press agency PAP writes. "We do not agree to opening discussions with Russia on a new agreement as long as this issue is not settled."

Poland last year vetoed launching negotiations on a new EU-Russia treaty, saying the Russian meat ban is a political ploy to sow disunity between old and new EU states and to punish Warsaw for supporting the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

The European Commission has repeatedly stated that it is satisfied with Polish food on technical safety grounds.

The deadlock could see Samara turn into the same embarrassing flop as the EU-Russia summit in Helsinki last November, as well as derail EU efforts to conclude the new bilateral treaty before Russian presidential elections in 2008.

If the Russian-Polish row is solved in time, EU member Lithuania is threatening to veto treaty talks unless Russia resumes oil pipeline supplies to its petrol refinery in Mazeikiu. Vilnius also accuses Moscow of political punishment for not selling the refinery to a Russian bidder.

"I wouldn't rule out Lithuania going it alone on the veto, they are a hot-blooded country," one EU diplomat told EUobserver, with EU foreign ministers set to discuss Mazeikiu on 14 and 15 May, just a few days before the Samara deadline.

Rough weather forecast

Writing for Russian news agency Ria Novosti last week, eminent Russian analyst Sergei Karaganov warned that launching the EU-Russia treaty talks could be just the beginning of further recriminations between the two powers.

"Even if an agreement is drafted, the same new [EU] members are bound to block its ratification," he said. "Polish or Baltic MPs would [not] resist the temptation to add some conditions or amendments unacceptable to Russia."

"As a result, the negotiations will fail and result in mutual accusations - a worse result even than having no agreement at all or extending the existing treaty [which was drafted in the early 1990s and expires this November]," Mr Karaganov explained.

When German EU presidency foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and EU top diplomat Javier Solana meet with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Luxembourg on Monday (23 April), there will be plenty of other painful subjects on the table.

Brussels has promised to quiz Mr Lavrov on police brutality in breaking up pro-democracy Marches in Moscow and St Petersburg earlier this month. Russia is also opposing EU and US efforts to grant independence to the Serb province of Kosovo.

On top of this, UK-Russia relations have become strained over London's refusal to extradite anti-Putin oligarch Boris Berezovsky and an ongoing probe into the notorious murder in England of anti-Kremlin activist Alexander Litvinenko last year.

Russia has called for its business leaders to boycott the high-profile annual Russia Economic Forum to take place in London on 22 to 24 April, with Russian government officials also set to stay away.

Cold War déjà vu

From Moscow's point of view, the EU's talk of democratic and market economy values is an attempt to weaken Vladimir Putin's administration and to get its hands on Russian oil and gas assets, in the context of an ever-expanding NATO.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson last week spoke of "a level of misunderstanding or even mistrust we have not seen since the end of the Cold War...each suspects the other of double standards. Both believe the other is using the energy weapon as an instrument of politics."

"It [the EU] is accusing Russia of being an unreliable supplier (as if there were anyone more reliable) and keeps talking about bypassing it with new pipelines," Russia's Mr Karaganov wrote. "We are being told to give up our monopoly on export pipelines, as if we were masochists."

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