TBILISI – EU-Russia summit setting in Stockholm hold out hopes to be a low-key affair neither sides,  after

EU, Russia Summit, 18 November, 2009

breakthroughs in a relationship that stalled after the Russian-Georgian war more than a year ago.

Energy security, rising protectionism and rule of law: there is no lack of potential areas of friction at the EU-Russia summit. Sweden has also been particularly critical of Russia in recent months, whether on the war in Georgia or human rights violations, to such a point that the Russians refused for a long time to have the summit held in the capital of the country holding the EU Presidency, as is the tradition.

Russia still hesitates about WTO

Speaking in Brussels on November 17, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt complained that Medvedev had appeared to gloss over that important theme.

“The difficulty that we have there is, of course, [the World Trade Organization],” Bildt said. “And although President Medvedev said a number of interesting things in his policy speech the other day, I was struck by the fact that the WTO wasn’t even mentioned. Clearly, that might mean something — that’s one of the questions we will have on the table for the Russians when we meet them.”

The EU also expects “clarification” from Russia on its World Trade Organisation membership. Russia is the last major power not to belong to the WTO. “Russia has not lost interest in the WTO but some WTO members no longer wish to see it join,” replied Chizhov.

The EU would also like “clear political assurances from Russia that in the case of a conflict between Russia and a third country, transit and/or export of oil and gas to the EU will not be reduced or interrupted,” according to a preparatory note drawn up by the Presidency. “It would be irresponsible to give guarantees on matters that depend on a third country,” responded the Russian Ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, referring to Ukraine.

Protection of Human Rights Activists

Lastly, the EU will table the question of rule of law, particularly in the Northern Caucasus, in the wake of the killings of several journalists and human rights activists. “We welcome President Medvedev’s remarks on democracy and human rights but they have to be followed by action” because “the human rights situation is troubling” in the country, declared recently Sweden’s European Affairs Minister Cecilia Malmström. The European Parliament awarded its 2009 Sakharov Prize to Memorial, a Russian human rights NGO, one of whose staff members was killed in Chechnya last July.

Meanwhile, Georgia, although it remains a divisive issue between the EU and Russia, has been relegated to the status of a “regional conflict,” to be broached at the summit alongside Transdniester and Nagorno-Karabakh.

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