EU, Russia far apart on rights, Moldova, Georgia

EU, Russia far apart on rights, Moldova, Georgia

By Sebastian Alison

BRUSSELS, Feb 27 (Reuters) – Differences between the European Union
and Russia will be exposed on human rights and relations with former
Soviet countries when foreign ministers from the two sides meet on

Strains over Georgia and Moldova, ex-Soviet states trying to move
towards the EU but where Moscow keeps troops against their will, are
set to top the agenda when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
meets the EU in Luxembourg.

The bloc also will take Moscow to task over human rights at
consultations on Tuesday, days after the European Court of Human
Rights ruled Russia committed serious abuses, including torture and
killing, during military offensives in Chechnya.

“Our concerns are harassment of human rights defenders, especially in
Chechnya; increased racism and xenophobia; and religious intolerance,
especially anti-Semitism,” an EU official said.

“The Russians are likely to raise the issue of the rights of
Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltics.”

Russia and the EU hold a summit in Moscow on May 10 when they hope to
sign an agreement establishing four “common spaces” on areas of mutual
interest — the economy; freedom, security and justice; culture and
education; and external security.

But talks on external security are bogged down by Russian resistance
to the idea that the EU has a role to play in countries Moscow sees as
in its sphere of influence, namely Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The EU insists it should be involved as these countries are its near
neighbours following the bloc’s enlargement last May.

Lavrov and Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, representing
the EU as his country currently holds the bloc’s presidency, will
discuss Moldova — which holds parliamentary elections on March 6 and
whose president Vladimir Voronin has accused Moscow of interfering
with the election campaign.


Russia keeps 1,500 troops in Moldova’s breakaway Dnestr region
following a brief war in 1992, despite a pledge to withdraw them, and
the EU has said it will appoint a special envoy to the country to help
end the “frozen conflict” there.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the
continent’s human rights watchdog of which Russia is a member along
with EU states, is the lead player in ending the Dnestr dispute.

But EU diplomats say Russia feels increasingly uncomfortable with its
role in the OSCE as countries like Moldova and Georgia have sought to
escape Moscow’s influence, leaving it increasingly isolated within the

“Now Russia is paralysing the OSCE’s budget, and practically
paralysing its secretariat,” an EU diplomat said, adding that the OSCE
would also be on the agenda for the talks.

Russia has faced sharp criticism in recent days. Apart from the
European Court of Human Rights verdict on Chechnya, President Vladimir
Putin also heard U.S. President George W. Bush question his commitment
to democracy.

Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has also stepped in to
criticise Putin’s record, saying bluntly that the country was on the
wrong track and he may stand for the presidency in 2008.

But diplomats said they expected constructive talks with Moscow on
Iran, the western Balkans and Middle East peace talks.

Russia is a member, with the EU, United States and the United Nations,
of the Quartet seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, and after Monday’s talks Lavrov will head to London for a
Quartet meeting on Tuesday.

02/27/05 04:29 ET