There is hardly a precedent in modern history that an ultimatum issued to Russia has yielded the expected results.
The statement the European Union foreign ministers adopted at their meeting in Brussels on Monday resembles an ultimatum. The EU is threatening Russia with serious consequences if it does not give its consent to apply the 1997 Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) to the countries that will join the EU on May 1.
However, Moscow is insisting that the agreement should be revised. Indeed, Russia maintains long-established trade ties with East European countries, and their trade treaties will not expire by May 1.
The EU is opposed to revising the PCA and is demanding the agreement should be applied to the new EU members. Brussels' statement emphasises that EU enlargement is the organisation's internal affair, while it is resolved to carry it through regardless of whether Moscow approves of it or not.
However, the question is whether or not the EU's nicely worded Common Strategy On Russia, a crucial document adopted in Cologne in 1999, will make any sense after the Union admits new members. The document highlights the EU's strategic goals of intensifying co-operation with Russia, promoting Russia's prosperity and free market economy for the good of the Russian people, and so on and so forth.
Brussels must understand that by applying the PCA to the 10 new EU countries it will deal a serious blow to Russia's economic interests. This will spell the end of dozens of trade and other economic agreements and treaties still in force. It will endanger Russia's aluminium, grain, chemical fertiliser and nuclear fuel exports to Central and Eastern Europe.
This expansion scenario will cost Russia at least 300 million euros in economic losses, according to Russian and Western experts. What respect for Russia's national interests!
While denying Russia the right to protect itself from the consequences of EU expansion, Europe does not even think of sacrificing its own right to self-defence.
Fourteen of the 15 EU countries are hastily passing laws to bring the inflow of immigrants from the new member states down to a minimum.
Belgium, for example, is imposing restrictions on work permits for the next two years, providing no explanations whatever. Germany plans to impose the restrictions for up to 7 years. The Netherlands is establishing a quota-based access to its market for guest workers from Eastern Europe (22,000 people a year), while Britain is set to deny East European immigrants the majority of the social benefits available.
EU membership does not mean that the East European countries will be subject to the laws that were in force before May 1, 2004.
Brussels is well aware of the irrationality of its demands concerning the PCA. By criticising Moscow, Brussels is trying to disguise this irrationality.
The EU statement highlights human right violations in Chechnya, the weak points of Russia's election system, while it urges Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and demands that it accept illegal Russian immigrants repatriated from the EU.
Moscow knows its shortcomings only too well. It is striving to promote European values in Russia. However, it is now making the transition from the centralised to a free market economy, which is a strenuous effort. What Russia needs from the European Union in this dramatic period of its history is understanding, co-operation and partnership, rather than harsh criticism.
Moscow is, therefore, becoming increasingly suspicious that the present enlargement scenario is designed to squeeze Russia out of the European community, to establish a geopolitical zone, in which Russia will play a secondary, subordinate role.
Russia is inundated with demands and claims from Brussels, which, for its part, ignores Russia's national interests completely. The PCA affair is only a small part of a large-scale problem. A memorandum that the Russian Foreign Ministry forwarded to the European Commission in late January supplies more details about this issue. The EU expansion could be a less painful process if European authorities had a clearer vision of what Russia wants from the EU, reads the document.
Russia does not want anything that would run counter to the interests of a large European community, which accounts for 36% of Russia's natural gas exports and 10% of oil exports.
Russia wants a more prominent say in Europe's decision-making, especially in light of its long-established East European trade partners' accession to the EU. Russia is seeking fairer tariffs for its steel, pharmaceuticals, aircraft and nuclear technology exports to Europe.
Moreover, Russia cannot understand why European officials are afraid of forcing its future members, Estonia and particularly Latvia, to guarantee its Russian-speaking population access to European values, i.e. the right to be educated and taught about their culture in their mother tongue.
Moscow is seeking a less indifferent attitude on the part of European authorities to the problem of transit via Europe to Russia's westernmost region of Kaliningrad and possible visa-free travel from Russia to the EU and back.
The avalanche of mutual claims and criticism threatens to bury Russia-EU relations. Yet, the question is to what degree the EU is ready for real, not declarative, strategic co-operation with Russia, the bright prospects of which are set out in the 1997 Agreement. Europe should remember one essential truth: Russia cannot be excluded from the emerging European community.