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Page last updated at 21:54 GMT, Monday, 1 September 2008 22:54 UK

EU's show of unity over Georgia

By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Brussels

From left to right: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission head  Jose Manuel Barroso
EU leaders said "business as usual" with Russia was no longer possible
The last time that European Union leaders met for an emergency summit in Brussels in early 2003 there was an almighty clash.

The then French President Jacques Chirac publicly chided the countries of the former Soviet bloc for being "badly brought up" and "losing an opportunity to shut up" because they supported America's tough line on Iraq.

This time, "old Europe" and "new Europe" have overcome their divisions to agree on a tough line on Russia - at least for now.

After a summit lasting just four hours, Nicolas Sarkozy - Mr Chirac's successor and currently in charge of the EU rotating presidency - announced that Europe was united.

Over four pages, the summit conclusions strongly condemn Russia's "disproportionate reaction" in Georgia, describe as "unacceptable" its recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and call on other states "not to recognise this proclaimed independence".

'Strong signal'

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, whose country was under Moscow's rule only 20 years ago, left the summit happy with the outcome.

With the crisis in Georgia, relations between the EU and Russia have reached a crossroads
EU Council statement

"During all these hours, we haven't heard anyone speak in favour of the events that happened in Georgia," Mr Adamkus said.

"Aggression has been called by the name and has been openly and strongly expressed. So in that sense I believe this is the first EU summit where the EU leaders agree on events over there," Mr Adamkus said.

But they went further. The EU decided to postpone the next negotiations on a new wide-ranging partnership agreement with Russia, scheduled for 16 September, until Russian troops withdraw from Georgia to their pre-conflict line.

It is what Poland and other former communist nations, backed by the UK, had been pushing for.

The postponement is mainly symbolic, but a strong signal that "business as usual" was no longer possible while Russian soldiers and tanks remained deep inside Georgian territory. A stronger signal than many had expected, as the postponement had not been mentioned by EU ambassadors when they prepared the summit last week.

Support for Georgia

Mr Sarkozy said the summit was not directed against Moscow, but Russia had a choice.

We don't need these talks or this new agreement any more than the EU does
Russia's EU envoy Vladimir Chizhov

"The question is what does Russia want?" Mr Sarkozy asked. "Does it want confidence and co-operation, or does it want distrust and an increasing tension?

"The EU would welcome a real partnership with Russia which is in the interest of all. But you have to be two to tango; you have to be two to have a partnership."

Mr Sarkozy, who brokered the ceasefire in Georgia last month, will go to Moscow and Tbilisi on 8 September together with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to see to what extent Russia is keeping to its side of the bargain.

The meeting, Mr Sarkozy said, would be crucial for the future of relations.

In a strong sign of support for Georgia, the EU also pledged to send around 200 monitors on the ground; to grant the country EU support worth 110m euros ($160m) and organise an international donors conference soon.

Also on offer in the longer term is a free trade area and easier travel conditions for Georgian citizens.

EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told the European Parliament she would speed up preparations to deepen ties with other former Soviet nations which might find themselves in Russia's sight.

These policies, Mrs Ferrero-Waldner said, "underline that we will not accept new dividing lines in Europe, and that partners like Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova can count on our support for their territorial integrity and sovereignty".

They have all been watching the summit closely.

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, who travelled to Brussels and met several EU leaders on the margins, said: "Georgia is grateful for the solidarity of the EU."

End of holiday

But Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, warned that the EU had missed an opportunity by putting on hold long-delayed talks on the new deal.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Dmitry Medvedev warned Moscow would retaliate against any sanctions

"We've had to wait 18 months for the EU to get itself ready," he said. "We don't need these talks or this new agreement any more than the EU does."

The question now is where do the EU and Russia go from here. Theirs is a relation of interdependence. While Russia supplies over a third of Europe's oil and gas, Europe is Moscow's biggest trading partner.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Russia's behaviour meant another Cold War was possible.

"The holidays from history have ended," he warned. "We now have to think about energy policy and energy relations with a country which has proven that it plays by different rules, and is not converging with our rules, which is what we were hoping for.

"We have reached a cusp of history, we would all want to avoid some kind of second Cold War. If we get it, I have no doubts who will win it," Mr Sikorski said.


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