The September 1 European Union summit on the crisis in Georgia ended with sharp words for Russia, but there is lingering doubt over whether those words will translate into tough action.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who holds the EU's rotating presidency, convened the Brussels meeting after Russia refused to withdraw all its troops from Georgia in line with the French-brokered six-point ceasefire proposal. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
Despite differences over response tactics, the EU's 27 member states issued a unified condemnation of Russia's "disproportionate reaction" to the situation in breakaway South Ossetia and condemned as "unacceptable" Moscow's recognition of South Ossetia and fellow separatist region Abkhazia as independent states. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"A return to the spheres of influence is unacceptable. Yalta is over," said Sarkozy at the press conference following the summit in reference to the 1945 agreement that carved up post-World War II Europe between Soviet and Western domains. "We cannot continue as if nothing had happened," added European Commission President JosÃ© Manuel Barroso.
To reinforce that point, the EU has suspended talks with Russia on a new partnership and cooperation agreement that would replace an older 1997 agreement. The talks will be postponed until Russian troops have withdrawn from Georgian territory in accordance with the ceasefire agreement, according to a European Council statement.
President Sarkozy will visit Moscow and Tbilisi on September 8 together with Barroso and EU High Representative Javier Solana to continue discussions on the application of the ceasefire protocol.
But, so far, there is no indication that the summit prompted the Kremlin to rethink its actions in Georgia.
Russia ranks as one of the European Union's largest trading partners and is a major supplier of natural gas to EU member states. Some Moscow-based analysts have interpreted a comment by Sarkozy that the summit "was not directed against Russia" as a sign that Brussels understands that dependency, and will moderate its response.
With that restriction apparently in mind, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on August 31 called for stopping the EU's reliance on Russian oil and gas and for a thorough re-examination of the Union's ties with Moscow. Such a move could prompt tension within the EU. Already, in the week leading up to the summit, clear camps had begun to form over what should be a suitable European response to Russia. Poland, a long-time Kremlin sparring partner, pushed for sanctions; Italy did not. Germany, meanwhile, is struggling to hold to the middle of the road, alternatively castigating Moscow and calling for further dialogue.
In a September 1 interview with Madrid's RNE Radio 1, EU foreign policy chief Solana stated that a review of the EU's relationship with Russia would take place before a November 14 EU-Russia summit in Nice, France.
But positions within the EU may be consolidating, argues one analyst in Paris. "It is the first time that member states ever agree on the necessity of the deployment of a European Security and Defense Policy mission. This is really something new," commented Sabine Fischer, an analyst from the European Union Institute for Security Studies. Solana has announced the deployment of an EU observer mission to be discussed by EU foreign ministers on September 15.
The summit also sent a financial signal of support to Georgia. The European Commission will donate six million euros [about $8.69 million] for Georgia's reconstruction; the 27 member-states will hand over an additional 9 million euros (about $13 million). A donor conference has been announced, but no specific date was set.
Further possible measures include the establishment of a free trade area and the relaxing of visa requirements for Georgian citizens.
In response, Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, speaking to journalists in Brussels on September 1, welcomed the European Council's "firm and principled statements." Gurgenidze tread a careful line, however, saying only that the Georgian government is now focusing on "issues that matter to Georgia," including the implementation of the ceasefire plan, reconstruction and tighter integration into the European Union. The Georgian government, he added, neither demanded nor expected sanctions against Russia.
In earlier remarks, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze struck a harder line, forecasting that "a very hard process will start for the Russian Federation" following the European summit, Georgian Public Broadcasting reported.
Tactics to be taken at a September 9 EU-Ukraine summit could provide potential clues to further changes to come in the Union's relationships with its Eastern European neighbors, analyst Fischer commented.
Acknowledging Ukraine's membership ambitions "would change the European Neighbourhood Policy framework profoundly, which does not provide a membership perspective," she said.
The EU is trying to change its longstanding image of a divided and slow-moving foreign policy actor through active steps such as the visit of EU officials to Moscow next week. Commenting on the EU's role in brokering a ceasefire, Sarkozy said after the summit, "We have never seen Europe in such a voluntary and responsive position to stop a crisis."
While some American analysts have cautioned that Moscow will view any EU response as more talk than action, Fischer assesses the steps positively, "The fact that the EU presidency negotiated the ceasefire and the fact that the EU is able to call an emergency meeting within a few weeks and really play an important role in processes on the ground is not a bad record for the time being," she said.
But responding to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and resuming multilateral negotiations about the regions' status will prove a more arduous task, one Brussels-based analyst contends. The war between Georgia and Russia has limited the scope for a moderate approach to resolution of the South Caucasus' conflicts, said Bruno Coppieters, a professor at the Free University of Brussels. As a result, the EU will more likely focus on conflict management and avoiding a resurgence of violence. "The moderate policy will be one of refreezing the situation and refreezing it well," said Coppieters.
Lili Di Puppo is the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Caucaz.com and a PhD candidate at the European Viadrina University (Frankfurt/Oder) in Germany.