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Dec 8, 2010 | 20:47 GMT

3 mins read

Poland and Sweden Test Russian Patience

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski paid a visit to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau on Dec. 8 at the invitation of their Moldovan counterpart, meeting with the leaders of Moldova's main political parties. At the conclusion of the visit, Bildt said that any changes at Moldova's domestic level and in the direction of its foreign relations are important for all of Europe and that the European Union wants to know what Moldovan politicians think about their country's future. Bildt's statement represents a not-so-subtle hint that Stockholm and Warsaw are concerned about the prospect of a pro-Russian Moldova, as rumors of a potential coalition between the pro-Russian Communist Party and elements of the pro-European Alliance for European Integration continue to circulate. The entire visit, apparently not announced in advance and therefore perhaps a last-minute arrangement, seems very much like a European response to the visit to Moldova only a few days earlier by a high-profile Kremlin delegation led by Russian Chief of Staff Sergei Naryshkin. Naryshkin's visit is said to have led to an arrangement between the Communists and the tentatively pro-European, albeit inherently opportunist, Marian Lupu. Though Lupu said Dec. 8 that "neither Moscow nor Brussels ... can create a coalition" government in Moldova, both are certainly trying to do so judging by the flurry of visits from Moscow and European capitals. The visit also marks the second time in just three weeks that Bildt and Sikorski — who have a reputation inside the Kremlin as the most vehemently anti-Russian Cabinet members in their respective governments — have jointly visited a country Russia considers part of its sphere of influence. The two visited Ukraine on Nov. 17 under the auspices of the EU Eastern Partnership program. Poland and Sweden are trying to revive the Eastern Partnership initiative before Poland takes over the EU presidency in the second half of 2011. Poland and Sweden certainly seem serious about the initiative, which previously has been underused, underfunded and perceived as inadequate by the post-Soviet states it targets. Sweden has emerged from the self-imposed geopolitical exile that persisted during much of 2010 due to domestic politics. Now, it is looking to keep Russia's focus away from what Sweden considers its sphere of influence: the Baltic states. Poland, meanwhile, is testing the extent to which its detente with Russia will allow it to maneuver in the Russian near abroad. The Russian response to both Sweden and Poland's seeming commitment to making the Eastern Partnership initiative a central part of their foreign policy in 2011 remains to be seen. Russia spoke out against the Eastern Partnership back when it was largely an insignificant EU initiative with some promise and no track record. Now that Poland and Sweden are trying to revive it, Moscow may feel compelled to counter. This jeopardizes the recent Polish-Russian detente and could sour EU-Russian relations.

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