Friday, December 10, 2010

Medvedev Brings Europe and Russia Closer

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s trip to Europe this week has improved his country’s relations with the Continent and brought Russia closer to joining the World Trade Organization (wto).
Medvedev visited Brussels for an EU-Russia summit on December 7, where he signed a bilateral trade agreement between Russia and the European Union, agreed last month.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso called the agreement “a milestone.” Russia has been negotiating to join the wto for 17 years, and is the only large nation not a part of the 153-member group.
At a press conference with Medvedev, Barroso said that “We expect Russia to join the wto next year.”
Russia came to a similar agreement with the United States in September, meaning that few obstacles bar it from wto membership.
The agreement commits Russia to phase out lumber and other raw material tariffs. There are still some other areas in which the EU wants Russia to change—such as its practice of banning European meat on a seemingly arbitrary basis, citing health laws as an excuse.
On the same trip, on December 6 Medvedev visited Poland, where he worked to improve relations in the first official visit to the country by a Russian leader in nine years. Medvedev said that in order to attain better relations with nato and the EU, Russia must draw closer to Poland. He is right—often it is Polish objections that hinder EU-Russia or nato-Russia rapprochement.
During the visit, Medvedev promised to open Russia’s archives on the Katyn massacre—a mass killing of Polish officers and intellectuals that took place in 1940.
The visit appears to have been a success. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said that it heralded the end of a period of “bad drought” in relations between the two countries.
However, Poland hasn’t decided that Russia is a benevolent, friendly nation all of a sudden. “We have no illusions about the nature of the Putin regime,” an anonymous government official told the Wall Street Journal. “We got tired of being the one country to stand up to Russia. Russia is our number-two trading partner—we have more to lose [than other states in the EU].”
The Russia-EU, and specifically the Russia-Germany, relationship is an important one to watch. If the two work together, like they have several times in the past, they can rise in power very quickly. For more background on this relationship, see our article “A New Strategic Partnership Emerges.”