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www.europeanvoice.com, March 4, 2004

Russia's new premier dubbed 'Putin puppet'

By David Cronin

RUSSIA'S incoming Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has to shoulder some of the blame for the country's deteriorating relations with the EU, a top opposition politician said yesterday (3 March).

Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of Liberal party Yabloko, characterized the appointment of Fradkov, until now Moscow's EU envoy, as an attempt by President Putin to copperfasten his grip on power.

"He [Putin] used to have about 90% control," Yavlinsky told European Voice. "Now he will have 110%."

Asked if he viewed Fradkov, generally perceived as unwavering in his loyalty to Putin, as essentially a 'puppet' of the president, Yavlinsky replied: "Yes."

But he said Fradkov was at least partly culpable for the more critical line EU institutions have been taking towards Moscow. EU foreign ministers recently signalled Russia will be hit by sanctions if it carries out a threat not to extend the partnership and cooperation agreement, underpinning its links with the EU, to the ten countries joining the Union on 1 May.

This followed a strongly-worded statement from the European Commission, berating Russia over issues ranging from the conduct of elections to human rights abuses in Chechnya.

"To some extent, this is related to him [Fradkov]," Yavlinsky added. "There was not a softening of the situation [during Fradkov's brief stint in Brussels]. There was a sharpening of it."

A spokesman for Russia's EU embassy said Fradkov was unavailable for comment, as he has already returned to Moscow.

His appointment is expected to be approved by national parliament, the Duma, tomorrow (5 March).

This follows Putin's dismissal of the entire cabinet led by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov last week, a surprise announcement just a few weeks before the 14 March presidential election.

Yavlinsky was in Brussels to address a conference on EU foreign policy, hosted by the European Parliament's Liberal group.

Earlier in the day, Estonia's incoming European commissioner Siim Kallas called on the Union to take a tough line with Moscow.

"We don't want any exceptions for Russia," the former premier said.

Kallas also dismissed claims that the ethnic Russian minority in his country, which makes up around one-third of Estonia's 1.4 million inhabitants, faces systematic discrimination.

"There are no clashes between Estonians and Russians," he said. "This is mostly a question of foreign policy, used to create tensions in international relations."

Graham Watson, leader of Liberal MEPs, said declarations made by EU ministers on Russia have "begun to look sloppy, or naive or just downright cynical" because Putin has been pursuing a "divide and rule" policy with the EU. This was illustrated, he said, through how France and Germany were "courting" Putin during the Iraq crisis last year, while Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, also last year, defended Moscow's stationing of troops in Moldova and its military tactics in Chechnya ­ despite the EU having an agreed line to the contrary.

"An enlarged Union has to get real with Russia," Watson commented. "It is my hope that the new member states ­ who know authoritarianism when they see it ­ will encourage a new frankness in EU-Russia affairs."

The Commission will be tabling updated proposals on how to deal with neighbours of the expanded EU in May, its President Romano Prodi announced. "With those countries, we intend sharing everything except our institutions, basing our relations on a community of values and interests," Prodi said.


www.europeanvoice.com, March 4, 2004

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