Frustrated EU Making New Policy On Russia

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European Union is preparing a major review of relations with Russia following a disastrous EU-Russia summit last November, an EU official said Tuesday.

A policy paper drafted for External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten will be completed by Feb. 10 and foreign ministers of the 25 current and future EU member states will discuss it Feb. 23.

The study will argue relations between the union and Russia -- which will border five EU states when the bloc adds 10 new members on May 1 -- are drifting along with few results and are too important for this to continue.

"Russia and the EU are important partners, yet we don't seem to be making enough progress as fast as we want, and the Russians feel the same. We're frustrated and so are they," the official said.

The review was prompted partly by an outburst by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, hosting a November EU-Russia summit in Rome, when he endorsed Kremlin policies, prompting the EU executive and most member states to dissociate themselves.

But EU officials are determined not to repeat a situation in which its institutions are publicly at odds on a key issue.

"Clearly the way Berlusconi handled the summit was the last straw that showed the need for a more coherent EU approach," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

At a joint news conference with President Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi enthusiastically supported Moscow's military policy in Chechnya. He also backed Putin's handling of the arrest of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Brussels had criticized Russia in both cases.

Relations with Russia are set to move up the agenda after EU enlargement on May 1. Eight of the new members were once in the former Eastern Bloc, and some have a deep antipathy to Moscow.

Three -- Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- were Soviet republics, and Russia has been arguing with Estonia and Latvia over the rights of ethnic Russians still living there.

Moscow also has written to Brussels expressing concern about the economic impact of enlargement, particularly on its potential loss of trade with the new member states. Russia and the EU are also at odds on conditions for Russian entry into the World Trade Organization, and over Moscow's failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

EU officials have said the three issues -- enlargement, WTO membership and Kyoto -- could be addressed together before the May 1 enlargement deadline.

"Our relations with Russia are too important to allow ourselves the current lack of results," the EU official said.

He said the policy paper would cover political, economic and social relations, and attempt to clear up anomalies in ties.