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The much-anticipated European Union-Russian summit ended late last week with palpable frustration expressed by the top leaders of each entity.
With Germany currently holding the presidency of the EU, expectations were high that several of the issues challenging the two powers would be at the very least discussed, if not resolved—in particular, the ongoing trade disputes between Russia and Poland, the future direction of Kosovo, energy supply and human rights.
The two-day summit ended in an odd fashion, without an agreement on how to negotiate closer economic links, or even the traditional joint statement. Instead, the two sides traded barbs during what The International Herald Tribune described as an “unusually long and acrimonious press conference.”
BBC News described European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso as warning Russia that any action taken against an individual EU state would be considered action against the whole: “It is very important if you want to have close co-operation to understand that the EU is based on principles of solidarity.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “We often hear about the need for solidarity. Are there any limits to solidarity? Are there any questions that should be decided internally?” (EUObserver).
The conference quickly degenerated into a quarrel over human rights, which apparently irritated all leaders, and Mr. Putin in particular. When a journalist asked him why he was afraid of demonstrators, the Russian president replied, “They don’t bother me in any way. All those who want to stage demonstrations in accordance with the law have such an opportunity. But some provoke law enforcement to use force, and they respond accordingly” (IHT).
Mr. Barroso said, “We stress the importance of democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of demonstration. These are values I’m sure unite, not divide, us. It’s very important for all European countries—and Russia is a European country—to ensure the full respect of those principles and values.”
Following the summit, Mr. Barroso, in an interview with Germany’s Focus magazine, warned Russia again not to try to create division within Europe by treating some of the newer EU members as lesser states. “One can get the impression that Russia views some EU members, like Poland or the Baltic states, differently from others.”
He added that Moscow must realize the interests of Poland are as legitimate and important to the EU as those of Germany and France. “Putin noticed [at the summit] that European unity is not to be broken.”
Poland, meanwhile, basked in the glory of the strong support it received from Berlin and Brussels. According to The EUObserver, the chairman of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party said, “This is a great success for Polish diplomacy, in terms of Russian relations we got what we wanted.”
Analyst Andrzej Maciejewski of the Sobieski Institute in Warsaw went even further, saying the EU “taught [Russia] a lesson.”
At a time of significant geopolitical change on the world scene—the decline of the Anglo-American power bloc and the rise of China—Russia and the European Union are facing their own frustrations and challenges. Leaders of both powers admitted “they need each other,” and that an alliance would hold tremendous potential.
Yet Russia and the EU have some hurdles to overcome. Mr. Putin, who is nearing the end of a successful term, is preparing his nation for a new leader and its next step. Europe, meanwhile, continues to function under political constraints, despite Germany’s booming economy and leadership.
How will these challenges be overcome?