Russia seeks foreign policy voice in Europe

AP News
Posted: Oct 18, 2010 6:00 PM
Russia seeks foreign policy voice in Europe

Russia sought to use a summit starting Monday to cement a greater role in Europe's security and foreign policy _ a shift that France and Germany embrace but that's tougher to sell to the rest of the long-divided continent.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he wanted a "worthy global response" to his entreaties for a new security deal with Europe as he headed into two days of meetings with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in this French beach resort.

With terrorist threats, concerns about Iran's nuclear program and the war in Afghanistan high in European governments' minds, security emerged as the key theme of this week's summit.

The leaders of the three European powers dined on Deauville's boardwalk Monday night before heading into talks Tuesday morning looking at Russia's improving though still imperfect relations with NATO, and deadlocked efforts to improve ties with the 27-nation European Union. They're also likely to confront "frozen conflicts" on Russia's periphery that have held back broader cooperation with the West.

Sarkozy summoned his Russian and German counterparts in part to prepare for France's leadership of the Group of 20 leading global economies.

Moscow is also looking to create a Russia-EU committee on foreign policy and security, according to the Kremlin, and to build a "democratic space of equal and indivisible security in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia region."

One example of potential cooperation: Russian interest in buying French Mistral-class warships. The prospect has worried some in Washington and some of Russia's neighbors.

Sarkozy wants Europe to recruit Russia as an ally "at a moment when Russia is looking farther and farther West," according to an official in the French president's office. Europe should "reset" its relations with Russia the way the Obama administration has tried to do, the aide said, on condition of anonymity because of presidential policy.

Frozen conflicts such as Moldova's separatist Trans-Dniester region are likely to come up in Deauville.

Russia maintains 1,500 troops in Trans-Dniester, a long sliver of territory hugging the edge of the former Soviet republic of Moldova _ a country struggling over whether to tilt toward Russia or the West. German Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer said last month that the Trans-Dniester conflict needed to be solved "not against, but with Russia."

Merkel said Saturday that a goal of the meeting in Deauville is to improve cooperation between NATO and Russia, "for the Cold War is over for good." She insisted, though, that a new "security architecture" should not hinder U.S.-European cooperation in NATO.

NATO has invited Russia to hold a special meeting next month on the sidelines of a summit of all NATO nation leaders, including President Barack Obama. Russia, which has increasingly worked with the alliance in Afghanistan and in fighting piracy, has not responded.

Meanwhile, Russia is trying to get visa-free access to EU countries, and the EU is trying to get energy deals with Russia that are fair to non-Russian investors and companies. Both issues are central to this week's summit.

"The trilateral meeting is not some kind of exclusive club for working out decisions separately from other states and international organizations, but a convenient format for comparing our common vision in a confidential and frank atmosphere with our closest partners in Europe," Russian foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said Monday, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

Stefan Meister, an Eastern Europe and Russia expert with the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said certain issues and certain regions are best discussed within smaller circles, and then brought to the broader EU.

"Germany and France are important partners ... regarding the economy, cooperation on energy, the whole security question that interests the Russians _ Afghanistan, drug controls. I think that this is a format for initial discussions that can lead to decisions in the wider realm of the EU," he said.

The last German-French-Russian summit was in Compiegne, France in 2006, before Sarkozy or Medvedev took office.


Charlton reported from Paris. Associated Press writers Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Robert Wielaard in Brussels and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.