EU-Russia close on US
The incoming Obama administration is unlikely to back away from missile defence systems in Europe any time soon, following Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's initial threatening speech, a nuclear nonproliferation expert who served in the Clinton Administration told New Europe. "The problem is that the Russians have been very unwise, I would say, in their approach to the incoming Obama administration," Carnegie Center's Rose Gottemoeller, who served Clinton as Director for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia at the National Security Council and as Deputy Undersecretary for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation in the US Department of Energy, said telephonically from Washington DC on November 14.
She referred to the tough speech Medvedev gave, just hours after Barack Obamawon the US presidential election "as a result of which the Russians have made it more difficult for an Obama administration to back away from missile defence because basically the Obama administration will have to take account of their own critics and they don't want to be accused of being soft on the Russians." Throughout the presidential campaign, the position of the Obama team on arms-control and nuclear security matters had been that the US will not, under an Obama administration, deploy missile defences in Europe unless they can be proven effective.
"That position has not changed, but whereas I would have perhaps expected the Obama team to back away from missile defences in Europe prior to Medvedev's threatening speech, I don't expect they would back away any time soon. So it is a complicated situation and I think the Russians have created a problem for themselves," Gottemoeller said. Prompted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Nice, Medvedev retreated on November 14 from his threat to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad, on Europe's borders, but only if Obama joined Russia and France in calling for a conference on European security by next summer.
Sarkozy appears determined to solve the US-Russia row over their respective plans to site missiles in Europe and agree on a new security treaty. Sarkozy, who presided over the summit between Russia and the EU in his capacity as the current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, helped ease the way for Medvedev's retreat. The French president supported the idea of talks on a new security plan for Europe and suggested that they could be held by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in June or July. Both Russia and the US belong to the organisation.
Sarkozy made clear that he wants Washington to reconsider the missile defense systems that it plans to build in Poland and the Czech Republic. Referring to the EU-Russia summit in Nice, Gottemoeller told New Europe that Medvedev is trying to repair the damage from his state-of-the-nation speech. "So they are now trying to spread perfume around," she said, laughing, just as the Russian president was en route to Washington DC to attend a G20 summit. "But they definitely started out on the wrong foot trying to threaten the incoming Obama president." Earlier on November 14 in Nice, EU leaders and Russia concluded their summit with little tangible achievements. The EU failed to persuade Russia to change its position on Georgia.
Medvedev was tough on the issue and refused to back down on Moscow's position to recognise the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independence states. Nevertheless, Sarkozy and Medvedev agreed that negotiations for talks on a new EU-Russia strategic partnership and cooperation agreement would indeed go ahead. "We just decided to continue negotiations: I can't give you a date for signing the treaty. It's a strategically important deal, and it's extremely complex, in view of the range of areas it looks at," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
"We should go down the path of economics, not the path of missiles," he added. Russian and EU officials held the first round of talks on the new agreement, which is intended to give a legal framework to their relations in fields ranging from trade and investment to environmental protection and education, on July 4. But EU leaders then froze further talks on September 1 in protest at Russia's August invasion of Georgia. Both Russia and the EU hope that talks would resume in early December. Medvedev said Russia hoped to see relations pushed forward and talks would re-start "in the near future."
He said that the final treaty "should be substantive, clear in structure, and provide a framework for future work." Gottemoeller told New Europe that "it does seem pretty clear that the EU has decided now that they want to have a vigorous negotiation with the Russians on possibility of an agreement between Russia and the EU. I don't think it's going to be an easy negotiation because the main issues that were out there before the Georgia crisis, were complicated by the Russian crisis." But she opined that Russia would no longer been acting from a position of strength, given the current world economic developments.
"We have to also take account of the economic changes that have occurred since the Georgia crisis," she said, pointing to Russia's troubled stock market after the events in Georgia. "But since then we had this enormous economic crisis and the drop in the price of oil has really put Russia in a difficult spot," she said, adding that the low oil revenues have taken their toll on Russia's federal budget. "The situation has changed pretty considerably since the time Russia was throwing its weight around and saying, 'We are now in a very powerful position at the negotiating table because we have all the cards on our side.'
Now Russia is a little bit more vulnerable because the price of oil and gas has gone down so significantly," Gottemoeller said, asked if energy priorities in the EU would take priority over Brussels' position on Georgia. In Nice, Medvedev said Moscow would remain a reliable energy partner. The EU is concerned about the security of energy supplies from Russia, the bloc's number one supplier of gas and number two supplier of oil. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin did little to calm EU unease when he warned on November 12 that Moscow may scrap Nord Stream and build LNG plants instead if Europe keeps delaying the project.
But as Putin threatened to scrap plans for the gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany, the European Commission on November 13 unveiled proposals to increase energy security and cut back its dependence on Russian energy supplies. "We have to do more, be more ambitious, and be even bolder to avoid the risk of energy disruption in the future," EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said. To ensure the security of energy supplies to the Baltic states, an interconnection plan, covering gas, electricity and storage in 2009, which would identify the infrastructure is needed to link these countries to the rest of the EU.
Norway, which is not a member of the EU, said it would increase the amount of gas it exports to the bloc. The European Commission also emphasised the development of a Southern Gas Corridor to import energy from the Caspian Sea and Middle East regions without crossing Russian territory.