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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Not the Birthday Wish Europe Was Expecting

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There is a common Russian sense of itself as separate from Europe but with the answers to Europe's problems. This is the gist of an article written by President Vladimir Putin for Sunday's 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which led to the creation of the European Union.

At the symbolic level, Putin quotes from Fyodor Dostoevsky's famous "Pushkin Speech," in which the writer talked about the relationship between Russia and Europe. "To be a true Russian does mean to aspire finally to reconcile the contradictions of Europe," Dostoevsky said in 1880.

"The great writer felt strongly that without Russia," Putin wrote, "Europe would never be at peace with itself." Putin added that "the continent cannot be truly united while Russia is not an organic part of the European process," but that Russia will not become a member of the EU in the foreseeable future.

At the political level, Putin quoted a formula provided by Romano Prodi in 2003, when Prodi was president of the European Commission: "Everything but the institutions." Prodi was addressing EU policy in relation to those neighboring countries unlikely to become members in the near future. On the eve of EU enlargement to include new Eastern European countries, the EU was not interested in assuming additional commitments. There could be cooperation, but no role in decision making. Now, with world energy demand putting Russia in a strong negotiating position, Putin is proclaiming Prodi's formula, but the other way around. Russia is the one trying to minimize its commitments.

At the diplomatic level, Putin calls in the article for a strategic partnership treaty to replace the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that expires this year. Moscow and Brussels agree on the need for a new deal, but negotiations have stalled, and not just over Polish meat imports.

The main bone of contention is the form of the document itself. Russia wants it to be a broad framework, containing general declarations to provide the basis for future narrower agreements in specific areas. The EU wants to include agreements on a number of difficult issues, particularly energy cooperation and adherence to democratic values.

Russia also insists that the document be in the form of a treaty, which has a higher status than a basic agreement. So far, treaties have only been signed on the EU side between member states, so Russia is aspiring to a higher status with a minimum of commitment.

Putin's article is something like a birthday toast that reminds the celebrant he owes you money. He can only reply politely, "Thanks for coming."

This comment appeared as an editorial in Vedomosti.