"Should relations between the EU and Russia be seen in terms of a strategic relationship or a simple partnership?" asked Janusz Onyszkiewicz (ALDE, PL), who is drafting a report on the new EU-Russia agreement, which is due to be adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee in Strasbourg on 9 March.
To describe our relations with Moscow as "strategic" indicates their importance, pointed out Mr Onyszkiewicz, who also argued that a partnership implied "sharing common values with Russia". In his view, Russia's institutions are operating on a model which is a "new type of managed democracy".
The chair of the EP Delegation for Relations with Russia, Ria Oomen-Ruijten (EPP-ED, NL), underlined "the need for such a strategic partnership even if there are prejudices on both sides". One of the conditions for such a partnership is that Russia not be systematically accused in every conflict, argued Hannes Swoboda (PES, AT), who believed the EU's position should be more balanced.
Negotiations on renewing the EU-Russia partnership, which expired at the end of 2007, resumed on 4 July 2008 but were suspended following the war in Georgia. The resumption of talks, decided at the EU-Russia summit in Nice, took place officially on 2 December. A meeting of the Troika was also held this Wednesday in Moscow.
According to Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, "the politicisation of economic relations with Russia is inevitable". He believed that a new framework agreement with Russia offered "an opportunity for dialogue" even if any documents would by their nature be of a "provisional nature".
The Putin-Medvedev doctrine
The Putin-Medvedev doctrine, which consists of Russia defending the rights of its citizens wherever they are and by whatever means necessary, as in Abkhazia, is causing concern, said Mr Onyszkiewicz.
Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Duma, maintained that Russia was not seeking to preserve influence over the countries of central Europe.
Arkady Moshes, of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told the meeting "the countries furthest to the west in the CIS have been distancing themselves from Russia for fifteen years. Its influence is weakening and the EU is becoming more and more attractive, even to Azerbaijan. Ukraine, Moldova and the Caucasus countries have taken part in the European neighbourhood policy since the start. There will be a new type of solidarity and Russia will not be part of it".
Energy situation, gas crisis
The gas crisis and the conflict in Georgia have led to a "change of paradigm" in EU policy towards Russia, according to Foreign Affairs Committee chair Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP-ED, PL). He wondered about the "reliability" of Russia as a partner when "the principles of international law have been flouted in Georgia".
In Mr Kosachev's view, "to see the North Stream and South Stream options as replacement solutions to the transit of gas through Ukraine would be a mistake. The existing networks and gas pipelines can be used. The shortest route is through Ukraine. Today the EU is closing its eyes to the responsibility of the transit countries".
"For the first time, Ukraine tried to use force. But Mr Putin made a fatal error in cutting the gas as a response to Ukraine's strong-arm tactics", said Arkady Moshes, who also believed that "Russia's resources do not match the country's ambitions".
Andrew Wilson and Nicu Popescu, of the European Council for Foreign Relations, argued for greater solidarity between the Member States and said that "internal dissension has prevented the renewal of the partnership agreement". For his part, Mr Onyszkiewicz stressed the need for solidarity between Member States to make the EU's positions vis-à-vis Moscow more consistent and effective.