As the two sides prepare to launch talks for a wide-ranging bilateral treaty at a summit in Siberia this week, Europeans should not expect Moscow to change its well-known positions, Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian ambassador to the EU, told journalists in Brussels ahead of the meeting, according to EurActive.
The EU-Russia summit, to be held in the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk on 26 and 27 June, is expected to give the green light to the start of negotiations for the future basic treaty between the EU and Russia, overcoming an 18-month setback caused by successive Polish and Lithuanian opposition to the deal.
Speaking to the European press in Brussels on 23 June, Chizhov used "continuity" as a key word, stating that he expects EU-Russia relations to be marked by "progress in continuity".
The Russian envoy explained that the EU and Russia "will never be identical, but always be complimentary and need each other". It is in this perspective that he explained the need for both sides to conclude a new legal base for a "strategic partnership".
He said Russia sees this new legal base with the EU not as a long and detailed document, but rather as a "framework treaty, allowing sectoral agreements".
Hard line on Kosovo
Chizhov made clear that Russia was not prepared to give any ground, saying the Russian President would not accept a reconfiguration of the UN mission UNMIK under an EU umbrella. The Union has recently been pushing a face-saving solution over its Kosovo mission EULEX, which was due to take over from the UN (EurActiv 29/05/08), hoping for a more flexible position both from Moscow and Belgrade (EurActiv 13/06/08).
According to Chizhov, Russia can accept an EU mission in Kosovo provided that it is based on a United Nations Security Council resolution and that it recognises the sovereignty of Serbia over Kosovo. "The host country remains Serbia," the Russian EU Ambassador insisted.
However such a position appears unacceptable to a majority of EU countries who have already recognised the independence of Kosovo.
The Russian ambassador also expressed satisfaction that the head of the UNMIK mission Joachim Ruecker had been "dismissed", and warned that Russia will follow up the work of his successor, the Italian diplomat Lamberto Zannier.
EU asked to explain itself on missile defense
Chizhov`s statements also made clear that Russia will also bring the contentious issue of the palnned US missile shield onto the summit agenda.
In February last year, the Czech Republic and Poland agreed to a US plan to install a missile defence system to counter a potential threat from Iran. Although the plans are encountering delays, it has been a major irritant in EU-Russia relations.
"We have a question to ask: how did it happen that two EU member states negotiated with a third country on missile defence without consulting with the EU?," asked Chizhov.
Asked by EurActiv if this was not in fact an attempt to embarrass the EU, Chizhov said his country wanted to "test the potential" of the European security and defence policy (ESDP).
Irony over Lisbon Treaty setback
Not without irony, the Russian envoy alluded to the crisis following the failed Irish referendum, saying Russia will obviously continue to meet new EU presidents every six months for some time ahead.
"It`s not entirely a sign of the EU`s strength, of course, but we`ll be closely following developments," said Chizhov.
The Russian envoy said his country was prepared to discuss the "frozen conflicts", in particular the tensions with Georgia over Abkhazia. He said Russia had "helped arrange" the recent visit of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to Abkhazia and felt the EU message of restraint to Tbilisi and Suhumi was "useful".
Russia plays Spain in the Euro 2008 semi-final on the evening of the summit. But the match starts rather late, at 00:45 local time. "All I can say is that President Medvedev will watch the match," Chizhov said, leaving it open for other leader to join in. The EU will be represented by current EU Council President and Prime Minister of Slovenia Janez Jansa, Commission President José Manuel Barroso, High Representative Javier Solana and individual commissioners.