At the Russia-EU summit in Nice, France, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev agreed to convene a major international conference in summer 2009 to develop a blueprint for a new European post-cold war "security architecture." (Photo: Reuters)
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France joined Russia in condemning the Pentagon's plans to install missile defence bases in central Europe yesterday and backed President Dmitri Medvedev's previously ignored calls for a new pan-European security pact.
Both presidents concluded a Russia-EU summit, in Nice in the south of France, with an agreement to convene a major international conference next summer at which the Americans, Russians and the 27 countries of the EU should come up with a blueprint for new post-cold war "security architecture" in Europe.
The call for such a pact has been Medvedev's central foreign policy message since he succeeded Vladimir Putin as president earlier this year. Medvedev has called for the new deal in several keynote speeches but has been snubbed by western leaders until Sarkozy delivered a characteristic surprise yesterday, appearing to hijack the subject.
Sarkozy said: "We could meet in mid-2009 to lay the foundations of what could possibly be a future pan-European security system."
The Russians see such a deal as a way of halting Nato enlargement and stopping the controversial US missile defence projects in Poland and the Czech Republic. While western European leaders are lukewarm about the Pentagon project and president-elect Barack Obama has yet to reveal his policies, Sarkozy went further yesterday, branding the project a setback for European security.
"Deployment of a missile defence system would bring nothing to security in Europe. It would complicate things," said the French leader, who currently chairs the EU. As he attacked the plan, Czech and Polish ministers met in Prague to affirm their support for the installations and send a signal to the Obama administration, pleading for it to go ahead.
"I'm 100 per cent sure that Obama won't kill missile defence," Alexandr Vondra, the Czech deputy prime minister, told the Guardian. "The European pillar of missile defence is in the interests of everyone who wants to keep Nato strong."
The French alignment with Russian aims will upset pro-US leaders in western and eastern Europe, but will enjoy support in Germany and Italy, which are eager to draw Russia in as a partner despite the recent invasion of Georgia.
Yesterday's summit ordered the resumptions of negotiations on a new strategic pact governing relations between Russia and Europe - talks that the EU called off in protest at Russia's invasion of Georgia in August.
In September the Europeans set Moscow an ultimatum for re-opening the talks, demanding that Russian troop positions and numbers be returned to the pre-conflict levels. Russia has ignored the European terms. But yesterday's summit glossed over that.
"It's as if the military intervention in Georgia never happened. The EU is sending a dangerous signal of weakness," said David Clark, chair of the Russia Foundation, who was an adviser to the former British foreign secretary Robin Cook.
Ian Traynor in Brussels and Luke Harding in Moscow.