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EU's Eastern Partnership: Russia doesn’t like it

Interview with Dominik Tolksdorf

By Andrej Matišák

Link to article

25.05.2009 · Pravda (Slowakei)

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On 7 May 2009, the European Union launched its Eastern Partnership with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Pravda interviewed Dominik Tolksdorf:

"The EU wants to establish a sphere of influence and dividing lines in Europe."  With these words, Russia criticized the Eastern partnership programme. It is usual for Moscow to attack NATO but not the cooperation initiatives of the EU. What is the difference of the Eastern partnership and why does the Russian government criticize the relatively vague programme that much?

Dominik Tolksdorf: It seems that it has lately become a usual pattern of the Russian administration to criticize the Western states with relatively harsh words, and it is not clear if the Russian government still differentiates between NATO and the EU but rather regards both organisations as the WEST. Although the EU-Russian relations have for different reasons (Kosovo, Georgia etc.) become strained in the past, I do not believe that the Eastern Partnership will significantly contribute to increasing tensions between Russia and the EU. The Russian government is concerned because the Eastern Partnership more strongly than the European Neighbourhood Policy focuses on political issues in the Eastern neighbourhood, which Russia still regards as its sphere of influence or at least as a buffer zone dominated by Moscow. But the Russian government will have to understand that also the EU has specific interests. Both partners will simply have to find ways for cooperation in the common neighbourhood. In my view, Russia should therefore be stronger included in projects of the Eastern Partnership. This might also develop into a cooperation that is able to address more sensitive issues in the future, for example frozen conflicts in the neighbourhood.

Do you think Russia is willing to take concrete steps to spoil this program? If yes, what kind of steps will it take? Would you say that Moscow can rely on some help from inside the EU?

Dominik Tolksdorf: I don’t think that the Russian government is willing to completely confront the EU by spoiling the Eastern Partnership. It has never really been concerned about the European Neighbourhood Policy, and it will also realize that the Eastern Partnership in its current configuration is still a rather technical Commission instrument. Although there are some governments within the EU that are certainly closer to Russia than other member states, there is no Trojan horse for Moscow within the Union. Even though Germany and France often try to accommodate Russia on different issues, both are at the same time strong supporters of a common European foreign policy that also support EU initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership.


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