Thursday, July 19, 2007

Updates: Britain/Russia--and the EU

So the Russian Federation matched the British by expelling four diplomats, suspending visas for visiting UK officials, and sent a further signal by suspending counter-terrorism cooperation with London. Then President Putin announced that "'You have to respect the legal rights and interests of your partners and then the situation will get better."

The EU reaction is quite interesting. A very lukewarm statement that fell far short of what London was expected in terms of EU solidarity in its insistence that this is really a bilateral matter. The Portuguese--who hold the presidency of the Union right now and who don't really have a close relationship with Russia--had no incentive to try and water down the EU response--they seemed to have not gotten much encouragement and with hours ticking by, wanted to get a lowest-common denominator statement on the record. And while France seems to be in firm support of the British, German chancellor Angela Merkel again demonstrated that German policy is driven by interests rather than sentiments--she even allowed that the British government had "overreacted" in their response by expelling the four Russian diplomats and freezing the visa talks in the first place.

So now what? Tit-for-tat, expulsion for expulsion? Another sign that the Russian (and for that matter the American) strategy of cherry-picking the countries of the EU works?

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