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Russian relations 'at a crossroads'

BRUSSELS — Facing their toughest foreign policy challenge in years, European leaders warned Monday that they would postpone talks with Russia on a proposed partnership if Russia does not pull back its troops in Georgia to positions stipulated by a cease-fire accord.

The 27 European Union leaders ended a three-hour special summit declaring relations with Russia are "at a crossroads" as a result of military action last month in the Caucasus region.

Despite pressure from Poland and other former Soviet Bloc nations, however, the statement did not mention diplomatic or economic sanctions.

The debate displayed internal rifts and other obstacles to a strong, unified European foreign policy, especially because Russia is a top supplier of oil and gas to the continent. Nonetheless, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating EU presidency and convened the summit, insisted that Europe had sent "a very strong message."

Georgia sent troops to regain control of its breakaway region of South Ossetia on Aug. 7. Russia, which had peacekeepers in the territory, responded by sending its military into Georgia proper, where some units remain.

"What does Russia want: trust and cooperation or defiance and rising tensions?" Sarkozy said. "The EU wants a real partnership with Russia, but in order to build a partnership, you have to be two. The EU will therefore continue to examine the consequences of this crisis on its relations with Russia."

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy will lead a delegation to Moscow and Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, next week to discuss issues such as sending several hundred civilian EU monitors into contested territory. If Russian troops do not withdraw to positions they held before Aug. 7, as agreed to in the cease-fire accord, the EU would suspend a scheduled Sept. 15 meeting about an EU-Russian partnership, a broad strategic initiative on energy and trade that has been in the works for two years, leaders said.

Russian relations 'at a crossroads' 09/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 3:30pm]
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