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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 04:46 GMT 05:46 UK
Russia eyes new EU with concern
By Stephen Eke
BBC Russian analyst

The expansion of the European Union to take in countries that were once satellites or subjects of the Soviet Union is causing serious, if belated concern in Russia.

Russian fears are both practical and emotional.

The Kremlin
Russia now has a sharper, more coherent policy toward the EU
At the popular level, there is a widespread perception that a new "wall" is appearing in Europe - one separating the increasingly prosperous "new Europe" from Russia, as well as its allies, Belarus and Ukraine.

There is a realisation in Russia that the EU's eastwards expansion will have a much greater immediate impact on Russia than Nato encroachment, which has been at the centre of Russian policy almost since the end of Communism.

Russian rhetoric over Nato expansion hasn't changed much - with the country's defence minister even threatening recently to bolster the nuclear arsenal in response.

But in private, officials are much more sanguine about Nato, and preoccupied with the economic impact of EU expansion.

Compensation blues

In the short term, it is likely to involve economic pain for Russia. The neighbouring countries - the key markets for Russian goods - will be obliged to introduce EU quotas and tariffs.

An EU policy paper suggested EU-Russia relations were close to - or had already hit - a post-Soviet low
That could hit some of the major Russian exports to the region - most importantly, agricultural produce and metals. Russia has asked for millions of euros in compensation to make up for these annual trade losses.

They have not been forthcoming.

Russia and the EU interact on many fronts, and the relationship is institutionalised in an impressive number of working committees and inter-state agreements.

But there are some Russians who feel Europe sees Russia as a second-class state and as little more than a source of cheap energy. And real tensions remain on both sides.

New depths

In February, the EU released a policy paper which suggested EU-Russia relations were close to - or had already hit - a post-Soviet low.

Residents in Grozny, Chechnya
The EU has expressed concern over human rights in Chechnya
The EU cited, among other factors, human rights abuses in Chechnya, the apparent backsliding over democracy and Russia's refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Russian liberals were happy that the EU had woken up to the fact that Russia is not a liberal democracy.

They have been disappointed by the apparent unwillingness of the EU's leaders to speak out over what they say are Mr Putin's authoritarian methods.

It is a situation that Russia has used to its advantage.

Policy moves

Raising the stakes dramatically, Russia said earlier this year that it would not extend the Russia-EU Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation to the new member-states until the EU had met its concerns.

Some have been seen before, such as insisting that the EU does more to protect the rights of ethnic Russians in the Baltic States.

But some are new, like the proposal that Russians should enjoy visa-free travel in the EU. That has been cold-shouldered by the EU, already nervous about Russia's porous borders.

The difficulties with the EU appear to have produced a number of changes in how Russian foreign policy is developed - in particular, the appearance of a sharper, more coherent "EU policy".

Until now, Russia has preferred dealing directly with - and usually in isolation - London, Paris or Berlin.

That was a policy which caused suspicion in Central Europe that Russia might try to play the big member states off against the newer, smaller ones, where anti-Russian sentiment remains strong.

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