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The Moscow Times, April 29, 2004

Papers Say EU Deal Is Victory for Russia

By Alex Fak and Simon Saradzhyan

The Russian press on Wednesday broadly lauded agreements signed a day earlier by Russia and the European Union on the EU's expansion, putting a positive spin on even the points widely considered to be Russian concessions.

"Europe Backs Down," the Vedomosti and Gazeta dailies proclaimed in one voice.

Gazeta said the potential "damage" to Russian trade from the EU's expansion has now been halved from the commonly cited figure of $150 million per year. An agreement on the duty-free transit of goods to the exclave of Kaliningrad and various other trade concessions are "a big success for Russian negotiators, experts say," Gazeta wrote.

Kommersant went even further, linking the EU expansion to Russian hopes for WTO accession. "As compensation for being willing to talk, Brussels gave Moscow 16 export guarantees, and this is a sign of a softening EU position in regard to Russia's accession to the WTO," the paper said, without elaborating.

The EU and Russia signed an agreement Tuesday on the expansion of the EU to Russia's western borders and to extend the EU and Russia's Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to 10 new EU members on Saturday. Under it, the EU will drop customs duties on cargo shipments between mainland Russia and Kaliningrad, lower trade tariffs, raise Russian steel quotas and honor existing contracts to supply Russian fuel to new members' nuclear power plants.

Many newspapers proclaimed a hazy joint statement on minorities as a victory for Russian negotiators. In what was widely seen abroad as a Russian concession, the statement makes no mention of Latvia and Estonia, two new members that Russia had wanted named to address its concerns that they discriminate against Russian-speaking minorities.

Vedomosti, which uncharacteristically devoted most of its EU article to the joint statement on minorities, said Russian negotiators are treating the statement as "our victory." It goes on to quote an expert who feared the agreement could be used by the EU to press Russia on its human rights violations in Chechnya.

State-owned Rossiiskaya Gazeta ran a short article noting that Estonia has begun moving its border troops from the Latvian to the Russian border and plans to spend 64 million euros ($76 million) to strengthen the Russian frontier.

Perhaps tellingly, no Russian paper ran the EU story on the front page -- not even Izvestia, which sent a correspondent to Luxembourg for the signing.

In academic circles, meanwhile, the EU issue remained on the forefront Wednesday, with leading scholars and experts sitting down at a round table to ponder why Russia and the EU have made so little progress in an area where their interests converge -- security.

"Russia and the EU could complement each other in security more than in any other area ... yet this is not the case," said Alexei Arbatov, head of an international security think tank at the Russian Academy of Sciences and a former deputy chairman of the State Duma's Defense Committee.

Arbatov said that while sharing positions on the seriousness of threats such as terrorism and proliferation, the two sides have not advanced far in practical cooperation. In part, the lack of cooperation is rooted in Europe's failure to develop its own military and security capacity in the form of a rapid deployment corps independent of NATO, he said.

Growing anti-Western sentiments in Russia also hinders closer security cooperation with the EU, he said.

Another hurdle is an unwillingness by many EU member states to let Russia help make decisions in security, said Sergei Oznobishchev, director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies.

"Russia has been assigned this golden chair where it is supposed to sit and do what it pleases -- such as whistle -- but not play any role in the decision-making process," Oznobishchev said.


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Russia-EU Relations

The Moscow Times, April 29, 2004

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