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After 18 months of delays in talks between the European Union and Russia, a summit is scheduled for June 26. Talks were delayed by Poland and Lithuania, which Russia annexed after World War II. Poland had blocked the talks due to a Russian embargo against meat exports from Poland. More recently, Lithuania held up talks over its concerns regarding Russian energy supplies.
The EU initiated the talks to discuss a trade pact between the European Union and Russia, especially involving energy. It is expected that the discussions will be slow moving due to many complex issues.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said, “Negotiations will start, I hope now in June. How long will they take? I think around a year. How long will it take to ratify? I don’t know, I hope another year, or I presume another year” (Reuters).
He also told reporters, “We are not in front of some quick fix, but indeed the process has started and we should be able within the process of negotiations to clarify all the problems that exist between EU and the Russian Federation” (Reuters).
Energy is the main concern to the EU, as Russia is a crucial gas supplier to many of the 27 EU member-states. Russia has twice used energy as a weapon, cutting off gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006 and Belarus in 2007, bringing serious ramifications on Europe, as 30% of the EU’s natural gas comes from Russia, often piped through these countries.
Germany, in turn, has made matters more difficult by planning a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. This would alleviate the problem, but severely affect the ex-Soviet republics that also rely on gas pipelines crossing their territories.
Upon agreeing on energy issues, it is expected that matters such as road access, border control and health and safety issues will be discussed. The EU and Russia differ in expectations going into the talks: Brussels wants a more comprehensive agreement covering all issues, while Moscow is only interested in agreeing on specific issues.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin’s successor, has indicated that China, rather than Europe, is his nation’s first choice for negotiations. On a trip to Beijing, President Medvedev sought closer Russian-Chinese cooperation at the United Nations Security Council to oppose American plans for a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Any progress from the June 26 talks between Brussels and Moscow will benefit the EU, which is beginning to reach out to all corners of the earth in its quest to survive difficult times in the world. Now more than ever, the European Union is forging global economic ties to support its interests in becoming a global counterweight to the U.S.