— The EU has adopted its tenth package of sanctions against Russia in just over a year. European Council President Charles Michel said that the bulk of the sanctions had already been imposed, and countries were now mainly busy fine-tuning the mechanisms to ensure they were not circumvented. And yet, how painful will the 10th package of restrictions be for Russia, Russian citizens and companies?
— In Russia’s view, the content of the tenth sanctions "package" proved to be largely predictable. The EU has once again expanded various illegitimate "blacklists" and export and import restrictions, and incorporated certain clarifications into its legislation. This is indeed not good news. But in practice, these measures change little, for example in trade – many supply chains were disrupted long before the formal restrictions were introduced, so the latter only formalised the status quo. Russian companies were ready for the announced restrictions, in part because their trust in the EU as a trading partner had long been eroded. And while the Russian side did not understand the motives behind the EU's actions when the first sanctions "packages" were issued, further decisions by the EU and its Member States became ever more absurd.
All in all, the tenth "package", as well as the previous ones and, most likely, the ones to come, should not be seen as a problem, but rather as an impetus for the development of the Russian economy. Well, that was apparently not one of the EU goals when it imposed the sanctions.
— What are your expectations for the future, how many "packages" will there be? Do you observe fatigue and declining interest in the EU on this matter?
— As for expectations for the future, the situation is difficult to predict, even for the Europeans themselves, as at Brussels' whim it is evolving contrary to the laws of logic. For instance, the European Commission is pleased to announce that the EU has sanctioned €132 billion of its trade with Russia. Yet, by the way, this amount is on par with the EU's annual trade with Japan. Thus, European officials do not seem particularly concerned that behind this figure are the very real interests of European manufacturing companies and exporters, as well as local consumers of Russian products.
As for sanctions fatigue, I think it will inevitably build up, along with the irritation caused by Brussels' obviously vain obsession with destroying our economy, among EU economic operators who have to find a way to sell the goods they used to supply to the large Russian market, as well as to replace the high-quality products they have been importing from Russia for decades. Yet, the European institutions do not experience any fatigue at all. Why would they? For more than a year Brussels has been stamping out endless sanctions: no sooner have the European capitals agreed on a new "package" of restrictions than work begins on the next one. For the EU, sanctions have become an end in themselves, a way of believing in its own anti-Russian forces. Clearly, the sanctions frenzy is now shifting to monitoring compliance with previously adopted restrictions and combating their circumvention.
— What would you say about consultations in the EU and G7 on the use of Russian assets? Judging by the statements, no form has yet been found that meets the norms of European and international law. Could the near future bring any solutions to this issue?
— Whatever consultations the European Union and the Group of Seven have had, whatever form they have tried to devise to seize Russian assets, any "theft scheme" is, by definition, contrary to generally accepted legal norms. The opinion of the European Council Legal Service is revealing, in fact acknowledging that sooner or later our state assets will have to be returned, and possibly with interest. If they are lost for any reason, the EU will have to compensate Russia for its losses out of the pockets of European taxpayers. The latter, however, are hardly likely to have any idea of this.
— After all these sanctions, what still works in bilateral trade in goods and services? What do you expect the trade turnover with the EU to be this year? Which areas can still be considered promising in trade with the EU?
— EU restrictions have definitely hit mutual trade hard. At the same time, the European Commission's own recent estimates suggest that they have affected 49% of EU exports to Russia and 58% of our supplies to the EU market. In other words, trade flows have not yet “dried up” completely.
The total value of Russia-EU trade in 2023 cannot be predicted at this stage. As the effects of Brussels' existing measures become more pronounced and the transition periods for new restrictions on key Russian export items expire, this figure may be expected to fall significantly. In 2022, by the way, it amounted to €258.7 billion, an increase of 2.3% compared to 2021. This has allowed us to maintain the fifth place in the list of the EU's main trading partners.
The current environment makes it impossible to suggest that certain commodity groups are more promising in terms of maintaining their trade volumes with the EU. With the EU sanctions volcano erupting every now and then, economic operators on both sides, alas, have to live for today and not make far-reaching plans.
— The leaders of the European institutions are constantly toughening their rhetoric on the situation in Ukraine. Do you see any pro-peace actors in the EU capable of helping to de-escalate the situation?
— Not only the bellicose rhetoric of representatives of European institutions, but also the concrete actions of EU Member States, first and foremost the provision of large-scale military support to Kiev, show that the West is not willing to de-escalate. Even if a number of European capitals recognise the futility of the EU’s course on Ukraine, in the foreseeable future these voices are unlikely to overwhelm the common chorus in favour of continued tough confrontation with Russia, and at any cost - both for Ukraine and for the EU itself. As for the pro-peace actors, they are most likely to be among the European public, whose views are hardly listened to here.
— Belgium recently published data on dozens of cases of discrimination experienced by local Russian residents since the start of the special military operation in 2022. These mainly include denial of banking services and discrimination in the workplace. Do you have data on discrimination against Russian citizens in EU countries in general? What is the trend, can we say that the peak of such reports has passed in the spring of 2022?
— Since the start of the special military operation, Russian citizens in "civilised Europe" have faced mass discrimination on the basis of nationality. The EU is not worried that illegitimate sanctions arbitrarily restrict the rights of ordinary Russians to freely use their property, conduct business, and live their private lives. Now there is a legal limit on the amount of deposits that Russians without residence permits in the EU countries, as well as Russian legal entities, can keep in banks in EU Member States. EU citizens and organisations are prohibited from providing our compatriots with crypto-asset wallets, accounts, or custody services in the EU, irrespective of the amount of the wallet. Russians are not allowed to carry financial means in the official currencies of Member States when crossing to Russia. Russian citizens cannot purchase transferable securities issued in the EU, obtain legal advisory services, or claim enforcement of public contracts concluded with them in EU countries. The EU visa policy was modified in order to tighten the issuance of visas to our compatriots. And millions of Russian citizens are even barred from entry in the Schengen area, since in December 2022 the EU decided to oblige its Member States not to accept travel documents issued by Russian authorities in the new entities of the Russian Federation, as well as in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Basically, the discriminatory policy is a tool to put pressure on our country, so the violation of the rights of Russians will continue. And we will not pretend that this is not happening.
— EU diplomacy is actively pursuing what Brussels calls "isolating Russia" in the international arena. How “successful” do you think this policy is? Can deployment of the EU mission in Armenia or creation of a new format for the Middle East settlement in parallel with the existing Quartet involving Russia be regarded as part of these efforts? Do you consider the halting of negotiations on the Iranian nuclear dossier as a consequence of the EU anti-Russian policy?
— Having embarked on a course of isolating Russia in the international arena, the EU, as it has now become clear to everyone, completely failed to calculate the consequences of such a policy for itself. The EU, not yet a global actor in foreign policy, assumed for some reason that all the countries of the world would obediently follow its proclaimed "crusade against Russia". At first, the EU was very confident: it seemed that if its representative left the room during a Russian diplomat's speech, everyone would rush after him. If Brussels drafted a joint document with anti-Russian passages, third countries would immediately and quietly sign it. After a series of pseudo-successes, the EU was a bit confused, but now it seems to be starting a second round with renewed vigour, this time not shying away from outright blackmail, bribery and other similar pressure tactics, which in principle should not be present in everyday diplomacy.
As for the launch of the EU mission in Armenia, this is nothing less than an attempt by Brussels to gain a foothold in the post-Soviet space by playing the role of a kind of “mediator”, taking advantage of the results attained in the Armenian-Azerbaijani normalisation process brokered by Russia. Of course, there is also a significant anti-Russian component - an aspiration to neutralise the historical role of our country as a guarantor of security. Apparently, similar "good intentions" are driving the European Union in Moldova, where, according to available information, Brussels is making plans to deploy its civilian mission.
The Middle East Quartet of mediators is in fact blocked: long before the special military operation started, Washington began to obstruct its work, and now the European Union has actually joined the US in doing so.
As far as the “Iranian dossier” is concerned, I don't think that the anti-Russian course was the decisive factor in the European countries' decision to "pause" the negotiations. However, it certainly has an impact on the discussion of all international issues, including the JCPOA, which will definitely make a successful diplomatic solution more difficult, if not impossible.
— European Council President Charles Michel said in a recent interview that he was in principle open to contacts with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Do you think such contacts are possible in the near future, how useful may they be in practical terms?
— The harsh confrontational rhetoric, including from the EU, against the Russian leadership is rampant. As far as we were able to deduce from Charles Michel's latest interview, it was about "not forbidding" himself to talk to the Russian President. I think this can hardly be interpreted as "openness" to resuming an equal and mutually respectful dialogue. Another "responsible” EU official recently said that it was "useless" to talk to our country and that it could not be seen as someone with whom one could have a reasonable discussion. It would be hard to find a more eloquent way of expressing the EU's "interest" in high-level contacts with Russia. Moreover, I would repeat, all these statements testify to the absence of any logic in the EU's actions: if Brussels keeps insisting that "isolating Moscow" is one of the West’s goals, how is it going to talk to us?
— To what extent is your work here in Brussels now hampered? Are there any minimal contacts with the European Union, with the European diplomatic service, with other EU services and institutions?
— I would not say that our work in Brussels is hampered, but its nature has changed significantly due to the geopolitical situation. As for interaction with the European institutions, at the moment its frequency and content correspond to the technical character of the current contacts with the EU.
— The new chief of the EU mission in Moscow recently took up his post. When can we expect the appointment of a new head of the Russian Permanent Mission to the European Union?
— I would start by saying that in the history of our Permanent Mission, which is quite young by the standards of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there have already been periods when it has been headed by a Chargé d'Affaires ad interim. So there is nothing extraordinary about this. And to be serious, the conditions for the appointment of a new Russian Permanent Representative to the European Union will obviously be formed when the European Union stops its fierce confrontation with our country and demonstrates in practice its ability to talk to us in the language of diplomacy, and not of war.