EU readies civilian mission to Georgia as leaders meet

Georgia Materials 1 September 2008 15:26 (UTC +04:00)

The European Union will not approve sanctions against Russia but will instead discuss sending economic aid and a civilian mission to Georgia, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said ahead of an emergency meeting of the bloc's leaders Monday.

"I think sanctions are not on the agenda today," Solana said after holding talks in Brussels with visiting Georgian Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze, reported dpa.

The EU is split on the issue of sanctions, with Poland and the Baltic states on one side insisting that the EU should punish Russia, and France, Germany and Italy saying instead that dialogue with Moscow is the best way forward.

Earlier Monday, the Federation of German Industries (BDI) intervened in the debate by saying it opposed sanctions being imposed on Russia over the conflict in Georgia.

Proposals to put Russia under pressure through sanctions or to halt World Trade Organization (WTO) accession talks or partnership with the European Union (EU) "lead in the wrong direction," BDI President Juergen Thumann said.

Speaking in Vienna, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said the EU should agree on a strong position on Russia's actions in Georgia.

"Should the European Union not be able to find a clear, strong, common position," Schwarzenberg said, "we can write off the European Union as a political project for some time to come."

However, Schwarzenberg reiterated his position that sanctions against Russia would not be effective.

Solana said Monday's summit in Brussels would provide leaders with an opportunity to "evaluate" the EU's relationship with Russia and provide help to Georgia following the August conflict.

EU-Russia relations are governed by a 10-year-old Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) which is currently up for renewal.

The next round of talks on a new PCA has been scheduled for September 15, with a high-level EU-Russia summit scheduled for November 14 in Nice.

"Whatever happens from here to there will be very important," Solana said when asked whether the EU might discuss freezing talks on the new PCA.

In the meantime, the EU has an "obligation" to help Georgia, which has suffered "tremendous damage on the ground", said Solana, who plans to visit Moscow and Tbilisi some time soon.

On top of providing humanitarian and economic aid, the EU is getting ready to boost its civilian mission, which currently compromises about 40 people, Solana said.

"We would like to have a new mission deployed soon," he said.