Delivered in Plenary - February 26th 2004
Russia is a vast country and its contribution -historically speaking - to European culture is immense. It remains a major military power and deserves recognition on the global centre stage. Although economically it has shrunk, it is a vital source of gas and oil to the EU and has a common enemy in international Islamist terrorism.
I believe that Mr Putin will win the presidential election, and that we must recognise his democratic mandate to rebuild a strong Russian state. I do not accept calls to expel Russia from G8 because of its handling of the Yukos affair. Only two weeks ago the Russian courts handed down a lenient sentence to one of its executives convicted of tax evasion: hardly the signs of judicial bias.
I sympathise at the loss Russia faces with the ending of the bilateral free trade agreements with the acceding EU states, but overall, the tariffs drop from 9% to 4% and Russia cannot fail to extend the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements to the Baltic Republics because of disputes over ethnic Russian minority rights there. The Kaliningrad question is settled now and work on visa-free or flexible travel to the EU should commence once a readmission agreement is struck.
Russia sees the EU as muscling in on its sphere of influence from Georgia to Ukraine, hence its attempts to reconstitute some of the binding elements of the former Soviet Union in the Yalta agreement with Ukraine, Belarus - a country where Russia could use its special influence to do more to encourage democracy - and Kazakhstan. I also urge Russia to withdraw its troops from Transnistria, allow a peaceful reunification of Moldova and consign the Tiraspol regime to the dustbins of history.
Lastly, I am concerned that there has been mass migration west of ethnic Russians away from the far eastern territories, where Russia is attempting now to forge close links with Japan and Korea on resource exploitation. These ethnic Russians are being replaced by illegal Chinese migrants, a situation which may cause tensions in the future in that vast, under-populated but resource-rich territory.