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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Should Take Tougher Line on Russia

The European Union's relationship with Russia is dysfunctional. Last week's EU-Russia summit was overshadowed by internal EU squabbling, the death of a former Russian spy and sundry rows over pipelines and food safety. Before the next summit in May, the EU needs a robust and unified policy that allows cooperation without offering Russia the chance to dictate terms.

Russian energy politics moved belatedly to the top of the EU agenda in early January, when Moscow cut off gas to Ukraine. The EU's own dependence on Russian gas increases every day. Yet the bloc remains deeply divided over how to manage that dependence. On the eve of the summit with President Vladimir Putin, EU countries failed to agree a common stance for negotiations.

While Poland consistently calls for a tougher line on Russia and is supported by other states that suffered under the Soviet yoke, the EU's big four -- Germany, France, Britain and Italy -- are much keener on cordial relations. With Russia, the cost of disunity is too high for the natural fractiousness of the bloc to be indulged.

In dealing with the Kremlin, the EU should be neither craven nor confrontational. Member states should think hard before rushing to conclude sweetheart bilateral deals such as the Russian-German gas pipeline that bypasses Poland and Belarus. They should avoid the inflammatory anti-Russian rhetoric.

In future, the EU should adopt what could be termed a Russian approach: a cold-eyed assessment of how its own interests can best be advanced by cooperating with the other side. That means holding Russia to account for all the commitments it has signed up for in its current agreements with the EU, which encompass visas, trade and human rights.

Britain must make clear that if there is any sign of Kremlin involvement in the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former spy and British citizen, the consequences will be grave for relations between London and Moscow. And since Russia has refused to heed the EU's calls to open up its own gas industry, it may also mean limiting access to EU energy assets for Gazprom.

The irony is that Europe's main demand -- a more open Russian energy market -- is in Moscow's own interest, since the country's decaying infrastructure badly needs more investment. But for a resurgent Russia, giving foreigners greater control over the country's chief natural resource is a difficult step to take of its own accord.

Russia remains the EU's most important market and partner. The past year has been a wasted opportunity. It is time for the EU to develop a more hard-headed and unified approach.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.