Putting Some Meat in EU Summit Talks

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In Khanty-Mansiisk on Friday, Russia and the European Union finally kicked off negotiations on a new strategic agreement.

At the EU-Russia summit, President Dmitry Medvedev described the new agreement as a "brief, legally binding framework document" that would not be "excessively detailed." The principal document will deal with the "strategic aspects" of the EU-Russia relationship and will be supplemented by "sector agreements," which would essentially put meat on the bones of the strategic framework.

The EU diplomats offered a different outlook. A senior foreign policy aide to German Chancellor Angela Merkel told an EU-Russia conference in Berlin on June 17 that if Russia adopted a "pick-and-choose approach" and sought to advance on areas of interest to Moscow -- like visa-free travel and access to the EU market -- while stonewalling on areas of greater importance to the EU -- like equal access for EU companies to Russia's energy sector -- it would be impossible to ensure ratification of the new agreement by all EU member states.

The EU would be seeking a "comprehensive agreement," in which "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," said the German official. It would be possible to negotiate narrower sector agreements with Russia, but only if they were negotiated signed and submitted for ratification as a "single package."

It is likely that the two sides will have to meet each other halfway and agree on what would constitute a "single package" and what should be added to it later as interests converge and the need for agreements becomes clearer.

While agreement on issues like international terrorism or nuclear proliferation would appear easy to reach, dealing with topics that arouse real passions, like energy security and conflicts in the former Soviet Union, is challenging. Russia does not accept EU's vision for a "common neighborhood" that would include former Soviet states in the EU sphere of close engagement, while the EU insists that there would be no toleration for a Kremlin-designed "Monroe doctrine in Europe."

As someone who from 2002 to 2003 helped negotiate an EU-Russia deal on Kaliningrad, I can tell you that everything is possible in EU-Russia relations if there is a political will to do it.

If you are doubtful about this, just buy a train ticket to Kaliningrad at a remote railroad station in Siberia. You will see the Shengen visa system process your application electronically in a matter of hours. No consulates required.

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.