Lords report raises Russia concerns

12 February 2009

The House of Lords EU Committee have today raised concerns that Russia has been distributing passports to non-Russian citizens in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the Ukraine. In addition President Medvedev's has been reported as asserting that Russia's 'unquestionable priority is to protect the life and dignity of our citizens, wherever they are'. The Committee states that it is 'greatly concerned' by the combination of these two developments and calls on the EU to refute firmly this doctrine of intervention.

The report also concludes that Russia has not fully complied with the terms of the ceasefire negotiated by the French presidency of the EU. The Committee argue that the pace and tone of negotiations on the new EU/Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement should be informed by Russia’s fulfilment of its obligations under the ceasefire agreements.

The Committee look in detail at the causes of last year's Russia/Georgia conflict and concludes that some blame can be attributed to all sides. They say that Russia's use of military force was disproportionate in response to provocative statements and military action by Georgian president Saakashvili and point to a Russian military build up on the Georgian border prior to the August war. However the Committee say that President Saakashvili drew unfounded confidence in confronting Russia as a result of mixed signals from the Bush administration in the USA. The Committee praise the EU’s handling of the conflict labelling it 'rapid and reasonably successful.'

The Committee stress that the ongoing disputes between Russia and the West over missile defence and NATO enlargement risk further complicating EU-Russia relations. They recommend that the EU should consult closely with the new American administration about engaging with Russia in a firm but constructive, fair and balanced way.

The Committee identify a severe downturn in the Russian economy which has weakened Russia’s position since their last report on the issue in May 2008. The global fall in energy prices has had a huge impact on Russia and the report argues that, in order to avoid a protectionist response by Russia, the EU should continue to encourage Russia’s full integration into the global economy by actively supporting its full membership of the World Trade Organisation.

The Committee also consider recent disputes over energy supplies between Russia and Europe and point out that the EU has made little progress in safeguarding gas supplies to EU Member States in eastern, central and southern Europe through the diversification of supply and delivery routes. The Committee calls on this policy failure to be remedied urgently and says the issue could become a major test of whether solidarity between Member States of the EU can be made a reality. The report recommends the diversification of gas supply and delivery routes to avoid over reliance on importing Russian gas. The Committee recommend the EU pursue a unified energy strategy, increase gas storage facilities and push ahead with development of the Nabucco pipeline to bring gas to the EU from the Caspian region.

The report concludes by arguing that the EU should continue to engage with Russia but that engagement should be hard headed, pragmatic and unsentimental. It should strengthen its relationships with the Ukraine, Georgia and other eastern partners. The EU should show understanding for Russia’s concerns over the common neighbourhood but should stand firm on issues of principle concerning these countries.

Commenting Lord Teverson, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy, said:

"We are very concerned by reports of Russia distributing Russian passports to non-Russian citizens in neighbouring countries. Combined with President Medvedev’s statements on protecting Russian citizens in other states as this is a worrying development and a cause of great concern for the UK and the EU as a whole.

"It is important that the EU keeps up the pressure on Russia to abide by the terms of its ceasefire with Georgia and the international principles which it has signed up to. Negotiations on the new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement should be informed by how far Russia sticks to its commitments.

"The EU should continue to engage with Russia as a policy of isolation would be counterproductive. However it is important that the EU is clear about its expectations of Russia and continues to pressure the Kremlin to meet those expectations."

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