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Traveling the Sphere of Influence

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Image: Economist

The BBC Euroblogger Mark Mardell is taking a close look at EU-Russia relations from the perspective of former Soviet states traditionally considered within Moscow’s “sphere of influence.” The first article in this three-part series has already been posted, focusing on traffic congestion, bureaucracy, and difficult trade politics at the Russia-Latvia border:

“It’s a big neighbour, and we cannot know what the big neighbour will do tomorrow. But it is not a very reliable business partner.” He tells me later that he is trying to make up for the lost market by expanding into Western Europe and building up trade with other Baltic countries. He says it’s just not worth doing business with the Russians – it is just too uncertain. It’s such a huge market that few companies will take this line as a matter of policy, but it’s not uncommon to hear people say that Russia is just not worth the hassle and potential loss of trade that can follow a political whim. The foreign minister, Artis Pabriks, wants the European Union to heed the experience of the Baltic states and particular to stand with them when they have such problems, rather than go chasing after individual advantage with Russian business or government. He told me: “In my view, Russians are led only by one interest, by national interest. While in the EU we frequently have the philosophy of a value-based policy and that sometimes makes it difficult to take a decision, especially because we don’t have a united foreign policy. “So, looking from the Latvian point of view it is very important that the EU tries to stick to one foreign policy. We joined the EU in order to see this organisation as a strong one, not a weaker one. And if we are not united it’s just like Benjamin Franklin said, either we hang together or we hang separately.”