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EU Leaders Prepare for Meeting About Georgia

By Lisa Bryant
31 August 2008

European Union leaders gather for a summit in Brussels Monday to figure out how to respond to the crisis between Russia and Georgia - and what kind of action to take against Moscow after it recognized two breakaway Georgian regions as independent states. Lisa Bryant has more for VOA from Paris.

In many ways, the European Union's leverage over Moscow is limited. Many E.U. countries depend on Russian gas.

The 27-member bloc is divided over how tough a stance to take against Russia after it recognized the independence of breakaway Georgian republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia - and refused to fully withdraw from Georgia after August cashes between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Last week, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, floated the idea of possible E.U. sanctions against Moscow. But France later backtracked and ruled out that idea.

The director of Russia and China policy at the Center for European Reform in London, Bobo Low, sums up the E.U. dilemma. "There is really no unity within the E.U. about how to deal with Russia. When you have unity it is because Russia has behaved so badly. It generally has a unifying effect on the E.U., but the problem is that when push comes to shove - when it comes to hard, concrete decisions - the E.U. tends to fall apart when it deals with Russia," he said.

Some leaders are calling for the European Union to craft a different relationship with Russia - and to look for ways to be less energy dependent. Moscow has also urged the European Union to send observers to Georgia to monitor a recent ceasefire between the two.

Analyst Low says Europe's hands are not completely tied when it comes to Moscow. "What the Europeans have to emphasize is that if Russia continues the way it is doing, it will be increasingly isolated and vulnerable. However, if Russia shows a bit of give, then the E.U. if very very interested in pursuing and developing constructive engagement with Russia I think that should be the message. It cannot be all stick. There has to be some carrot," he said.

Low says Russia does care what the international community thinks - and Moscow is particularly vulnerable since did not get the support for its actions in Georgia that it hoped during a recent summit with China and central-Asian leaders.

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