Russia Bullying Pro-EU Neighbors Ahead of Vilnius Summit

Written by | Thursday, October 10th, 2013

When the European Parliament adopted a text in September criticizing Russia’s geopolitical goals, which have put Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in a “precarious position”, the MEPs probably did not expect that it would prompt a change in the course of Russian foreign policy. According to analysts, Russia is getting nervous as the 28-29 November Vilnus summit of the Eastern partnership approaches – this high-level meeting is expected to see the signature of a landmark Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, and the initialing of similar agreements with Moldova and Georgia. These countries, along with Belarus, Azerbaijan and Armenia, are members of the EU’s Eastern partnership initiative.
In April, Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom announced it would treat Ukraine as a domestic consumer, cutting its gas bills by $8 billion (€5.59 billion) per year, if it joined Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in a customs union. Among other measures used to threaten its neighbors, Russia has also imposed import ban on the Moldovan wine industry. Moscow has long urged Kiev to join the union whose other members, Belarus and Kazakhstan, agreed last year to bring their foreign trade policy in line with that of Russia and open up their markets to Russian goods. However, Kiev’s position is that it wants both a free-trade deal with the EU and Russia. Moscow also announced earlier this week that it stopped imports of dairy products from neighboring Lithuania in the wake of the EU summit which was widely interpreted as Russia’s attempt to prevent the EU from an ‘excessive’ involvement in ‘its’ backyard. Analysts point out that Lithuania, which exports 85 percent of its dairy production to Russia, and is also to hold the EU November Summit, has become an easy prey to demonstrate Russia’s geopolitical interests.
In a recent interview, the Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhof, argued that the European Union has not offered Ukraine the prospect of full membership of the Western bloc and this is why a fully-fledged membership of the Russian Customs and Eurasian Union would be a better deal for Kiev. The plan to sign a free-trade pact with the EU has annoyed the Kremlin, which is building its own post-Soviet trade bloc, because it fear its market could be flooded by competitive EU goods entering Ukraine free of import duties and being re-exported across the long border with Russia. If Kiev signs the EU trade deal, joining the Russia-led customs union would be out of the question, senior Russian officials say.
In response to the recent Russian threatening postures, MEPs called on the EU institutions to consider the mounting pressure from Russia “beyond a purely trade dimension” and take action in defense of the EU’s Eastern European partner countries. “Russia is challenging the EU, not only the Eastern Partnership,” stressed a Polish MEP, Saryusz-Wolski. “We have to admit that we are on a collision course with Russia. It is Russia who has taken a confrontational course. We need a contingency plan and swift action.”

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