July 3, 2005

France, Germany say Russia can’t stop wider EU

By Oleg Shchedrov

SVETLOGORSK, Russia (Reuters) - The leaders of France andGermany told Russian President Vladimir Putin in this BalticSea outpost on Sunday that EU enlargement was an issue for thebloc to decide, not Russia.

Russia has been alarmed at the growth of the European Unionto incorporate former Kremlin satellites and its officials havehinted the crisis besetting the European constitution may be agood moment to put further expansion on hold.

"The problems ... of the constitution and enlargement, thisis a problem for EU members," German Chancellor GerhardSchroeder said at a joint news briefing with Putin and France'sPresident Jacques Chirac.

"This has nothing to do with what we describe as ourstrategic partnership with Russia," he added.

Despite differences over enlargement, Putin, Schroeder andChirac appeared friendly and relaxed in each other's company.

All three will be at the Group of Eight (G8) industrialnations summit next week in Gleneagles, Scotland and theirtalks touched on the issues of climate change, Africa andUnited Nations reform that will be on the agenda there.

Chirac said the G8 leaders, after tough discussions, were"heading toward" an agreement on climate change at the July 6-8summit, but he did not say what deal.

On Iraq, another issue likely to crop up at Gleneagles,Putin said past criticism of the U.S.-led invasion -- bycountries including France, Russia and Germany -- should notget in the way of Iraq's future.

"All contradictions over Iraq should be left in the past.We must unite with the U.S., with those who are trying tochange the situation in Iraq," Putin said.

Kaliningrad region, the venue for Sunday's meeting, standsas a symbol of how Russia and the EU are intertwined.

Formerly the Prussian city of Koenigsberg, it is now aRussian exclave encircled by EU territory.

Moscow is worried that if the EU continues its eastwardexpansion, countries like Ukraine and Georgia -- which arepulling out of Moscow's orbit after uprisings installedWestern-looking leaders -- could join the bloc next.

The Kremlin is also unhappy at what it sees as anti-Russiansentiment in some former Communist-bloc states now in the EU:Kaliningrad's neighbors Poland and Lithuania were pointedly notinvited to Sunday's get-together.

A senior Kremlin source said on the eve of the talks thevotes in the Netherlands and France rejecting the Europeanconstitution -- a charter designed to help the bloc's expansion-- called for a new look at EU-Russian relations.

But Chirac joined Schroeder in gently rebuffing the idea.

"Europe is again undergoing a difficult period, you maycall it a crisis," the French president said.

"This crisis will be overcome. In any case, it will nothave any consequences for EU-Russian relations."


Kaliningrad, the birthplace of philosopher Immanuel Kant,was this week celebrating 750 years since it was founded byTeutonic knights. It was signed over to Moscow in the Potsdamaccords at the end of World War II.

The region's convoluted history raised a laugh at the newsbriefing when Schroeder said for Germans the city will alwaysbe Koenigsberg. But he corrected himself, saying: "Of course, Idon't mean any territorial claims."

But that was in marked contrast to the chill between Moscowand the newer, eastern members of the EU.

Poland and Lithuania are Kaliningrad's major tradingpartners and provide the only surface transport links betweenmainland Russia and the exclave.

Both countries expressed displeasure at not being invitedbut Putin said on Sunday the three-way format for the talks didnot allow for any other guests.

Russia is unhappy with Poland's role in supportingUkraine's "Orange Revolution" last year, which propelledpro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Moscow is annoyed that Poland and Lithuania used May's 60thanniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany to air grievancesabout the Soviet occupation of eastern Europe after the war.