Saturday, April 12, 2008

Taking Poland in stride, Russia waits for EU-Russia Partnership

Russia reacted calmly last Thursday in Brussels to Polish President’s quips about conditional support for European Union-Russia partnership talks. Polish President Lech Kaczynski was quoted earlier last Wednesday as saying that the issue of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, opposed by Russia, was linked with a wider debate about the EU’s strategic partnership with Moscow.

Speaking to Tejinder Singh, Editor- in-Chief of New Europe, the European Weekly in Brussels, Vladimir Chizhov, the Permanent Representative of Russia to the EU outlined Russian position not only on the subject of Polish veto with respect to the relations with the EU but also in broader terms on Russia-EU strategic partnership.

Referring to the press reports from Reuters attributed to Kaczynski, Chizhov said, “This would have raised serious doubts regarding the coherence of Polish policy but then came the disclaimer from the Polish government that the President had been misinterrupted. That’s funny but it shows how sensitive the whole thing is.”

Reflecting on the delay in negotiations over the much-awaited EU-Russia partnership agreement, the ambassador lamented, “My negotiating mandate was formally approved by the Russian government back in November 2006 so it has been a year and half that I am sitting here waiting for my interlocutors to get their mandate.”

“The Commission needs approval of the mandate from the Council and this has been procrastinated by that Polish veto.”

Citing a Russian saying, “A bad example is the most contagious one,” Chizhov wondered, “Now it seems that may be some other countries will try to solve their own national problem or pamper their national ego by further procrastinating this particular issue.”

“I don’t think it would be in the interest of the EU but I am not pressing my interlocutors to get down to the negotiating table. If the EU needs time to mature, so it be then.”

Coming to the much talked about issue of Kosovo and its unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), the Russian ambassador said, “The reaction of some countries to recognise UDI has been illegitimate, running contrary to UN charter, to existing norms of international law and more specifically to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999 and the 1975 Helsinki Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe.”

Agreeing that, “It is not unique that some territories declare independence but the international community has many possible options to reacting to that, the ambassador said, “Unfortunately this time the wrong option was chosen by a number of countries.”

Going down the memory lane, the ambassador told New Europe, “Look for example what happened 25 years ago, when there was a unilateral declaration of independence on Northern Cyprus. That particular incident led to UNSC unanimously adopting Resolution 541 which explicitly urged all UN member states not to recognise so called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and not to establish any official contacts with it. Yes one country disobeyed that Resolution but only one and that’s how things remain to this moment.”

Giving a “purely pragmatic point of view,” the ambassador warned, “Kosovo has no chance of becoming a member of the UN, getting a seat at OSCE and other international organisations.”

“Only less than 40 countries have recognised it out of 200 and its already almost two months since the UDI. This is not something one can call international recognition, so summing up I could say that the issue of Kosovo’s final status has not been resolved.”

Elaborating on the role played by the EU, the Russian diplomat said, “I would split the issue into two main elements: one is recognition, a majority of EU member states have recognised independence of Kosovo but a third of EU members states have chosen not to do that and among them there are countries that have a strong view against recognising. So the EU does not have and will not have a common position on this very important problem of European politics.”

“Secondly, the EU has decided to despatch a civilian - police mission, EULEX, to Kosovo. It’s a classical case of the road to (hell) paved with good intentions. We would not mind the EU taking its share of responsibility for what is happening in and around Kosovo. We would not mind the EU organising a mission but on one necessary condition that this mission be mandated by the UNSC. Otherwise it lacks legitimacy.”

“Its not without reason that the UN Secretariat has been rejecting any approaches from EU for handover from UNMIK to EULEX.”

Lambasting the basics behind the appointment of Peter Feith as the EU Special Representative, the Russian ambassador said, “In that capacity he can do what the EU tells him but not certify Kosovo’s constitution. His opinion is as private as mine, or yours. Secondly, his other capacity that he claims, that of International Civilian Representative, is self-proclaimed and does not hold water.”

Suggesting a way out the Russian diplomat said, “I don’t think the situation is completely irreversible. Of course it’s difficult to rectify, but the only way to do that it at this point in time is to resume negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade. Only a negotiated solution has a chance of becoming a viable solution. Not a one sided solution, not an imposed solution.”

Adding a warning sign to the ongoing jubilations, the ambassador said, “When I hear, particularly in the first days after Kosovo’s independence, sighs of relief across Europe saying this has solved the last outstanding problem following the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, that this last page of Balkan crisis has been turned, I feel the need to disappoint those people. Having dealt with Balkans much longer than I could have wished in the beginning, I would say that a new page of Balkan crisis has been opened.”

Questioning the timing of release of the new book “The Hunt: me and War criminals,” by Carla del Ponte, former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in which she reports allegations that KLA fighters, at a senior level, had authorised and profited from an organ-harvesting racket preying on Serbs transported from Kosovo, the Russian diplomat asked, “Firstly why did she wait for eight years before publishing that?”

“But is it just a coincidence that allegations concerning not just unnamed Kosovoars but quite particularly those that are in power, accusing them of having been involved in human organ trading and killing of innocent Serb civilians happen now?”

“Why did it not appear before the recognition of Kosovo?”

“Looks a bit strange! And nervous reactions from some governments including her own Swiss government that chose to hurriedly despatch her to Buenos Aires does not contribute to confidence on this issue.”

Chizhov, the Russian diplomat disclosed that, “Yesterday the Russian government formally appealed to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to inform UN about what it thought about it, to check if those allegations correspond to the facts and if so what ICTY plans to do about it. The acquittal of a former prime minister of Kosovo by the Hague Tribunal is a shame. Having cleared the case of witnesses through murder and intimidation thus the process has been led to a false end.”

Coming to the labyrinth of pipelines, gas, oil and taps turning off and on with regular political factors, Chizhov, the Permanent Representative of Russia to the EU lamented the “too much politisation of the whole issue,” clarifying, “Those pipelines were not build yesterday, they were built 35 years ago, and that was during the Cold War and throughout the Cold War and afterwards there was not a single instance when the supplies would have been disrupted for political or other reasons except technical failures occasionally.”

“Even during the last few years there were no disruptions of energy supplies from Russia to the European Union. Whatever problems there might have been with the transit countries over payments, over debts, those were between the Russian supplier and the transit countries. Yes, we are aware that some of them actually went as far as blackmailing, using as leverage the possibility of redistributing the transit load from its original destination to the Western Europe to their own needs. The responsibility for that rests completely with those transit countries and not Russia.”

Calling energy “a complicated risky business, requiring huge investments,” the Russian diplomat said, “You have to spend hundreds of millions of Euro before getting the first drop of oil or first cubic metre of gas and that requires not only money but also technical effort and time. So when we speak of energy security, it can not be limited to security of supply, security of transit is another element but also security of demand.”

Addressing the politically sensitive topic of gas supplies in Europe, the Russian ambassador said, “It’s done primarily through trunk pipelines and for that to work the basis is long term agreements. It is quite natural that many European countries and their governments are keen to have such agreements in their pockets for as long as possible. One should not be surprised that some of them are eager to sign contracts with Gazprom for the period until 2030 or even 2035.”

Chizhov declared, “Whatever is developed as alternate energy sources, the backbone for at least next 50 years is going to be hydrocarbons. As long as world economy depends on hydrocarbons there should be an equitable partnership between supplies, consumers and of course transit countries.”

On the question of some countries like Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia and others playing a major role developing their bilateral relations with Moscow, the diplomat said, “I believe that overall today in the EU there is a resurgence of protectionism, perhaps related to soaring prices of energy. We may see the same situation in Europe with regard to food prices as food market is also globalised.”

Lambasting the energy policies of the European commission the Russian chief negotiator said, “With this famous third energy package proposals of the commission, it’s not surprising that eight or nine member states spoke against it, not to mention major energy companies of the Western Europe, who are quite annoyed with this concept of unbundling.”

“It’s not to say that I regard unbundling as such bad. By the way, Russia is in effect unbundling its electricity production, but there are certain specifics. The gas sector would face huge difficulties if it is unbundled in the EU.”

With the demand for food growing around the world the Russian ambassador accepted the fact that “Russia is the largest consumer of EU produced food which in the long term is bad. But for the time being it is inevitable and last year we bought more than five billion Euro worth of food from the EU.”

Striking a note of optimism about Russian efforts to gradually substitute imported food stuffs with domestically produced, the Russian diplomat agreed, “We have to cope with the increasing level of demand and increasing level of income of Russian consumers who for some strange reason prefer French wines or French cheeses to Russian ones.”

“The quality of food that the consumer expects is ever increasing and with it the local agriculture sector in Russia is very rapidly developing and in certain areas it has managed to cover all of the demand. But there are still some niches for import so the overall demand has not gone down for the time being.”

Last but not the least the Russian diplomat was candid in denouncing the ways and means of tackling the issue of Russian minorities in Baltics.

Highlighting the way Lithuania “chose the obvious and most reasonable solution meaning that all Soviet citizens residing in Lithuania acquired citizenship,” the Russian diplomat was critical of the Estonian and Latvian methods as those led to 36 percent of residents of Latvian and 28 percent of Estonia those of Russian origin, losing their basic rights as citizens after independence.

“This situation - of these residents of Latvia and Estonia not having political rights is a shame not only for these countries but also for the European Union as they are supposed to have fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria.”

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