- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Swedish Foreign Minister Leila Freivalds said yesterday the United States and Europe must make common cause in confronting Russia over lapses on human rights and relations with its neighbors.

The planned expansion of the European Union with 10 new members this spring will bring the bloc to the borders of Russia. Mrs. Freivalds, who met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Washington yesterday, says Moscow has attempted to impose new conditions and restrictions on its relations with the enlarged European Union.

“So far, Russia has been playing games with us, and that’s not acceptable,” she said.

Mr. Powell offered muted criticism of Russian domestic and foreign policy during a January meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, and Mrs. Freivalds said EU leaders are trying to formulate a new strategy for dealing with Russia.

“The United States and the European Union have to work hard to cooperate on Russia,” Mrs. Freivalds said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We share some values, and we are not sure that Russia today shares those values.”

When Washington and Brussels present the same message, she added, “it is much more likely to be heeded.”

Her remarks came as Mr. Putin and top Russian defense officials gathered in the Barents Sea to observe what are being billed as the country’s largest military exercises in more than two decades.

Russian analysts say the exercises are designed in part to boost Mr. Putin’s re-election bid next month, but also are intended as a sign to the United States and Europe of Russia’s military clout.

Confusion surrounded Mr. Putin’s visit, however, as a scheduled ballistic-missile test launch failed to occur. Russian officials offered contradictory explanations, with some saying the launch had been aborted and some insisting it never had been planned.

Mrs. Freivalds said Sweden has been especially sensitive to Russian pressure because of its closeness to the three Baltic nations — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — which are set to join the European Union. All three were part of the Soviet Union, and Latvia and Estonia have been unable to negotiate final borders with Russia more than a decade after the Soviet Union’s demise.

Russia has fiercely defended the rights of large ethnic Russian minorities still living in the Baltic states.

The Kremlin has demanded compensation from the European Union for what it says are economic losses from EU expansion, and has asked for concessions on visas and other topics.

EU enlargement means that “Russia is losing forever parts of Europe that were once in its sphere of influence,” Mrs. Freivalds said.

“Russia seems to have accepted that the Baltics will be in the EU, but there will come a day when there will be [questions] in Moscow about why these territories were lost,” she said. “That is why we must build a close relationship now.”

Mrs. Freivalds, a former justice minister, took her current post after Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was assassinated in Stockholm in September.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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