No return for Russia to G7, warns Merkel
The EU's Eastern Partnership "is not an instrument for pursuing an expansionist EU policy", German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, as the Riga summit began yesterday.
The partnership "is not directed against anyone, it's not against Russia", she said.
But Russia cannot yet rejoin the G7 group of leading nations, she added. "So long as Russia does not comply with basic common values, a return to the G8 format is not imaginable for us."
The G7 meets in Elmau, southern Germany, next month as Russia is exerting pressure on ex-Soviet states to join a Moscow-led "Eurasian Union".
A far-reaching EU-Ukraine association agreement has angered Russia. The Ukraine crisis erupted after the last Eastern Partnership summit, in Lithuania in November 2013. That was when former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych - an ally of Russia - refused to sign the association agreement, in an abrupt reversal of policy.
He fled from Kiev in February 2014 amid vast anti-government protests in which more than 100 people died.
The pro-Western government, formed after fresh elections, signed the association agreement, but the crucial free trade part of it was suspended until January 2016 so that Russian concerns about it could be addressed.
"It's not 'either or' - partnership or not - so we are ready to talk about worries over the economic association with Ukraine," Mrs Merkel told the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament.
But she stressed that it was each partner state's "sovereign decision if they want to forge close ties . . . nobody has a right to block that path".
EU leaders are concluding talks with their counterparts from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. There is much alarm in Latvia and its Baltic neighbours, Estonia and Lithuania, over Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The three Baltic states were under Russian domination during decades of communism.
The EU trade and association agreements aim to encourage ex-Soviet states to adopt EU standards not only in trade, but also in human rights and governance.
Chancellor Merkel said the agreements were tailored to the situation of each partner state individually. The EU would respect the wishes of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus to maintain close ties with Russia, she said.