Eastern Partnership : Moscow Accuses Eu of Expanding Sphere of Influence

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Russia has criticised the European Union for forging closer relations with the six former Soviet republics by establishing the new East-oriented policy - the Eastern Partnership. Speaking at the Brussels Forum, an annual high-level conference, on 21 March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested that by reaching out to its Eastern neighbors, the EU was seeking to extend its own sphere of influence. "We are accused of trying to have spheres of influence," Lavrov said, referring to the comments made by EU leaders after Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008 and then recognised its two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as independent states. "What is the Eastern Partnership'? Is it a sphere of influence, including Belarus?" he asked rhetorically.

The comment came after the 27 leaders approved, on 20 March, the Eastern Partnership - a new EU policy addressed to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The initiative, sponsored by Poland and Sweden, offers the six countries inter alia financial support to the tune of 600 million till 2013, association and "deep and comprehensive free trade" agreements as well as - "on a case-by-case basis" and "as a long-term goal" full visa liberalisation.

To date, Moscow has been rather reluctant to speak of the Eastern Partnership in negative terms. Asked to comment on the project earlier, Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the European Union, suggested that Moscow was not seeing it as a threat, especially as it would provide for rather minor financial support to the countries in question. …