RIGA, May 21. /TASS/. The fourth summit of the European Union’s East Partnership program opens on Thursday in Riga, the capital city of the Baltic republic of Latvia, which holds presidency in the Council of the European Union till late June.
The Eastern Partnership program embraces Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, all once being republics of the former Soviet Union. None of them will be offered any promises about possible membership in the European Union at this summit. Moreover, Kiev and Tbilisi, both seeking visa-free travel regime with the European Union, will not hear the good news at this summit.
According to TASS sources, the summit is expected to yield a statement on energy security and alternative routes of energy supplies to the European Union, including the southern transport corridor - a system of gas pipelines linking the European Union with the Caspian region via Caucasian state and bypassing Russia.
It is planned to sign a memorandum of understanding on extending EU aid of €1.8 billion to Ukraine. The European Commission allocated these funds at the beginning of the year.
Apart from that, it is planned to announce the establishment of a mechanism of support to small and medium-sized businesses in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in conditions of free trade zones with the European Union. The fund will stand at 200 million euro for all the three countries. The European Commission wants this money to be used as guarantees for attracting private investments worth €3 billion.
The Latvian presidency said the summit’s key political signal would be the confirmation of the strategic importance of the Eastern Partnership in the development of differentiated approaches to relations with each of the six states.
‘Differentiated approach’ is a new term in the Eastern Partnership program, stemming from the fact that the six countries of the program have divided into three groups.
Thus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are striving after the European Union’s recognizing their European perspectives, which imply possible membership in the European Union. Brussels however is not in a hurry to even promise such perspectives. Instead, it offers them maximum level of association, i.e. harmonization of their laws with those of the European Union. Armenia and Belarus have preferred full-fledged membership in the Eurasian Economic Union to association with the EU, but they don’t turn down individual projects with the European Union. Azerbaijan prefers to be equally distant from both integration associations.
The level of representation at the summit is going to be ‘differentiated’ too. Thus, Ukraine and Moldova will be represented by their presidents and prime ministers, Georgia will delegate only prime minister, Armenia - only president, while Azerbaijan and Belarus will be represented by foreign ministers.
The European Union will be represented by President of the European Council Donald Tusk, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn.
Delegations from most of the European Union states will be led by foreign ministers
Participants in the summit will discuss the war in Ukraine and zones of ‘frozen conflicts’ at the border of the rest five Eastern Partnership countries. The agenda will include the situation in Transdniestria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and in Nagorno-Karabakh. No practical peacekeeping initiatives are expected to be advanced at the summit - each of these conflicts has its own format of talks. Participants in the summit will only confine themselves to traditional statements about support of territorial integrity and sovereignty of Eastern Partnership member states. And in the case of Ukraine, they will obviously once again call to implement the Minsk agreements.
The summit is expected to give a positive assessment to the initial period of the European Union’s association agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, to discuss the process of the organization of free trade zones with these countries and to discuss the European Union’s possible ‘differentiated’ assistance to economic and political reforms in Eastern Partnership countries, to stress the importance of observing human rights and the freedom of press and the necessity of the implementation of the programme of common democratic values in all member countries.
As for the visa-related issues, a source told TASS the summit is expected to produce a vague statement on the necessity to ensure free movement of people and will call on all Eastern Partnership states to fulfill the requirements of visa liberalization action plans coordinated with Brussels.
These topics are to be discussed at a three-hour working dinner on May 21 and a four-hour plenary session on May 22.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini during his visit to Brussels on May 19, said that relations between European Union member countries and countries seeking to deepen relations with them should not develop the way that could damage Russia’s interests.
"There is just one thing we want, and our colleagues in Brussels have known this for a long time - to see that the process under way between the European Union and the countries willing to deepen economic, humanitarian and other relations with the EU doesn’t damage the legitimate interests of the Russian Federation," he said.
Russia believes these relations should take into consideration integration processes in the east of Europe, and be aimed at harmonization of these processes and not their contraposition, he said.
"Attempts to present the situation as ‘either-or’, as a game with a zero result lead to rather undesirable, unfavourable results," the foreign minister said.
"Our European partners are well aware of this. They have pledged, including [EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy] Federica Mogherini who did this at talks with me yesterday, that the Eastern Partnership will not develop to the detriment of Russia’s interests," Lavrov said.
"The words are correct and we would like to see them substantiated with concrete deeds," he said. "Let us look and see whether this will happen at the Riga summit," Lavrov added.
Set up in 2008, the Eastern Partnership is a European Union’s multiparty programme for regional cooperation with six post-Soviet states of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. It was initiated by Poland and supported by the Baltic states and Sweden. Shortly after the program was adopted, some European media said it was meant to get the post-Soviet republic out of Moscow’s influence zone, although its officially declared aim was partnership with the European Union.
The first summit of the Eastern Partnership was held in Prague in 2009. The second summit was held in Warsaw in 2011, the third - in Vilnius in 2013, when the then Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, postponed the signing of Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union as running counter to the interests of his country. It triggered a wave of protests widely supported by the United States and the European Union that ultimately ended in an armed coup in February 2014.