EU-Russia relations study lists Malta among 'friendly pragmatists'
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EU-Russia relations study lists Malta among 'friendly pragmatists'

Malta is listed among 10 countries labelled as "friendly pragmatists" in a report analysing the relations between Russia and the European Union.

Despite its economic strength and military might, the EU has begun to behave as if it were subordinate to an increasingly assertive Russia, the first-ever Power Audit on bilateral EU-Russia relations concludes.

The study, conducted with the participation of national experts from the 27 EU member states, was published yesterday by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a new think-tank and advocacy group.

"Today, it is the Kremlin that sets the agenda for EU-Russia relations, and it does so in a manner that increasingly defies the rules of the game," says Joschka Fischer, former German Foreign Minister and ECFR's co-chair. "The reason for that is the disunity of the EU. This must change," he insists.

The report points out that the EU's failure to agree on a common Russia policy has allowed the Kremlin to increase its leverage over the EU, through signing bilateral energy deals, playing the Kosovo card, asserting itself in the common neighbourhood, and dragging its feet on preventing nuclear proliferation. During the Putin years, Moscow had disputes with 11 EU countries, including the Litvinenko affair with the UK, the Polish meat ban, and trade disputes with the Netherlands. "Russia is the most divisive issue in the EU since Donald Rumsfeld and the Iraq war," says Mark Leonard, the ECFR's executive director and one of the report's authors. "But Russia's power is deceptive: the EU's combined economy is 15 times the size of Russia's, its military budget is seven times higher and its population three times the size of Russia. If European countries unite around a common strategy, they will realise how powerful they really are."

The ECFR report says that EU governments are torn between two dominant approaches to Russia. One side sees Russia as a threat that needs to be managed with "soft-containment", the other sees the country a potential partner that can be transformed through "creeping integration" into the European system.

The analysis identifies five distinct categories of countries. Greece and Cyprus are referred to as "trojan horses" whose governments often defend positions close to Russian interests, and that have been willing to veto common EU positions. The study reveals little-known facts such as Cyprus being the biggest official "investor" in Russia, due to the amount of Russian capital saved there.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain are described as "strategic partners" - whose governments have built special bilateral relationships with Russia, which has sometimes cut against the grain of common EU objectives in areas such as energy and the EU Neighbourhood Policy.

Ten countries - Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Portugal - are labelled "friendly pragmatists" whose governments have a less close but still significant relationship with Russia, in which business interests come first. Their policy tends to follow pragmatic business interests, opting for a path of least resistance in political disputes. In Bulgaria, for instance, the government has strong economic links with the Russian company Lukoil, which generated more than five per cent of Bulgaria's GDP and about 25 per cent of its tax revenues in 2003.

ECFR identifies nine further countries - the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Romania and the United Kingdom - as "frosty pragmatists". While keeping business interests high on the agenda, the governments of these countries have not refrained from criticising Russia's human rights record and failings on democracy.

Finally, Poland and Lithuania are described as "new cold warriors" that have developed an overtly hostile relationship with Moscow and are willing to use the veto to block EU negotiations with Russia.

The report argues that the five groups of the EU need to unite around a common approach - one that reflects the EU's long-term strategic interests.

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