Business as Usual with Russia?

BERLIN – Despite continuing tensions over Russia’s invasion of Georgia this August, the European Union will reopen talks with Russia on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). A PCA establishes a legal framework for negotiating specific agreements in such areas as trade, justice, and human rights. The current talks aim to replace the expired 1997 PCA, which remains in force by mutual consent pending a new accord.

At an emergency meeting on September 1, EU leaders refused to continue the PCA talks until Russia removed its combat units from the Georgian separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The heads of the 27 EU governments also characterized the Kremlin’s decision to recognize the independence of the two breakaway regions as “unacceptable.” Since then, EU governments have moderated their conditions, describing a simple Russian military withdrawal from Georgian territories outside the two regions as sufficient to resume a dialogue on the PCA, energy security, and other issues.

The EU decision comes at a time when NATO has also sought to renew its engagement with Russia after the Georgia conflict led both parties to suspend many joint programs. In a speech on September 18 at the Royal United Services Institute in London, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer argued that, despite differences over Georgia, Russia and the alliance should cooperate “wherever our interests converge.” He specifically cited continued cooperation in Afghanistan, where Russia is providing logistical support for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, as “a clear indication that common interests can transcend disagreements in other areas.”

In order not to appear intimidated by Russia’s forceful dismemberment of Georgia, NATO governments have publicly reaffirmed their support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and the country’s desire to join NATO eventually. In private, however, many allied officials have told the media that they are even less inclined than they previously were to deepen NATO’s ties with Georgia, given the risks of becoming entrapped in another Russian-Georgian war.