EU Seeks Common Response To Russia

The European Union is likely to issue a condemnation of Russia's recognition of independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia at an extraordinary summit in Brussels on Monday.

But while some European politicians have called for sanctions, the meeting might shy away from imposing painful economic or political measures based on concerns that Europe is just as dependent on Russia as Russia is on Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday and repeated an earlier demand that Russia withdraws its troops in Georgia.

"The continuing Russian presence … in [the Georgian port of] Poti is a grave violation of the six-point plan," Merkel told Medvedev, referring to truce brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to end the conflict in Georgia, according to a statement released by the German government.

Merkel condemned Medvedev's decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the statement said.

Sarkozy said in a speech to diplomats in Paris on Monday that the outcome of Russia's behavior in relation to South Ossetia and Abkhazia would "define the long-term relations of the European Union with Russia."

Medvedev said in interviews with international television networks late Tuesday that the country was not looking for the return of a Cold War scenario or international isolation, but was prepared to bear the brunt of international measures if the West decides to punish Russia and stop cooperation.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called for just that in an address to Ukrainian students in Kiev on Wednesday. He demanded that the West re-examine "the nature, depth and breadth of relations" and "to raise the cost for Russia for disregarding its responsibility," Reuters reported.

In what appeared to be a conciliatory move, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia was ready to pull out of buffer zones it has manned with soldiers in Georgia after monitors from the United Nations and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe were on the ground and ready to take their place.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said the consensus among the country's diplomats was that the summit was unlikely to end with the imposition of sanctions but that Moscow should be prepared for a chorus of condemnation. "European countries are strongly dependent upon Russian energy supplies, and European businesses have strong interests in Russia. They will have to take this into consideration," Lyakin-Frolov said.

Taneli Lahti, the head of the political section of the EU's delegation to Moscow, said the summit would deal more with Georgia than Russia.

"The main point will be how to help Georgia and support the stability of the region in general," he said.

Broader issues related to ties with Moscow would be discussed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the end of next week, he said.

Lahti refused to speculate about what the ministers might decide.

But the head of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Polish deputy Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, said the summit, which was initiated by Warsaw, among others, should also look at further steps against Russia.

"The European Council will have to consider the consequences of Moscow's noncompliance with the six-points accord brokered by France," he said.

Saryusz-Wolski also said the Kremlin's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was another act of noncompliance and a violation of international law.

He said the European Parliament planned to issue a resolution on this subject after a debate next Wednesday.

Asked about the Georgian government's demands to suspend talks on a new EU-Russia partnership and cooperation agreement, Saryusz-Wolski said it was too early to identify possible sanctions, but if Moscow remained uncooperative this would be an option.

"If Russia does not respect its own commitments under the six-point plan, the EU should reconsider its negotiations," Saryusz-Wolski said.

Rihard Piks, a deputy from Latvia, was less cautious, saying the EU should suspend the negotiations. "How can we speak about a cooperation agreement if we don't have the same values and commitments?" he asked.

Asked how this stance will go down with politicians from Germany, France and Italy, EU members traditionally more friendly with Moscow, he said that their attitudes might be changing.

"I think European politicians are now waking up … Russia will help to unite Europe," he said.

Lahti, from the EU delegation, was optimistic that the EU would be united in its policy toward Moscow, arguing that speculation about a split among the 27 members shortly after the war in Georgia started had been unfounded.

"In the end the discussion was very consensual," he said. "People wanted to agree."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Western reaction to Medvedev's move came as no surprise and just had to be weathered. The primary objective was not broad support, but to protect the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Peskov told reporters in a conference call Wednesday evening.

He also dismissed fears about possible sanctions, such as expulsion from the Group of Eight or a freeze of WTO-membership talks.

A senior official in the aviation industry, which has spearheaded cooperation between the Russian and European hi-tech sectors, said Russian business executives were also unfazed by talk of EU sanctions.

"Russia is a vast market for them, and we offer them cheaper production costs, so their interest in Russia is no weaker than ours there," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Wednesday that EU leaders needed to devise an "international mechanism" to win back South Ossetia and Abkhazia for Georgia.

"It is not about mediation any more, and it's not about bilateral dialogue," Saakashvili said, dodging the details of what kind of "mechanism" he foresees.

"It is about the international community speaking with one voice, trying to restore international law and order," he said.

Saakashvili had suggested earlier that governments should freeze Russian accounts in western banks.

In an article published in the Washington Post on Tuesday, David Rivkin, an adviser to former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, called for U.S. and EU authorities to begin audits of businesses controlled by individuals close to the Russian leadership.

Vladislav Belov, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Europe, said moves against Russian businesses in Europe would force the Russian authorities to retaliate against Western companies operating in the country.

"In Europe [this] would be conducted according to the law; in Russia the revenge against Western business would be a lawless nightmare," said Alexander Khramchikhin, a researcher with the Institute for Political and Military Analysis.

Staff Writer Natalya Krainova contributed to this report.