— The EU is preparing a new "package" of sanctions, although representatives of Member States claim that agreeing on restrictions is becoming increasingly difficult. What would your assessment be of the current degree of consolidation in the EU?
— It appears that far from all European capitals are enthusiastic about stepping up work on the tenth "package". This is mainly due to them realising that the EU sanctions strategy has failed. Brussels was sure that unilateral restrictions would provoke a rapid destabilisation of the economic situation in Russia, forcing an end to the special military operation. Instead, the measures taken actually brought about extremely painful consequences for the European Union itself – an energy crisis, record high inflation, and a recession. Furthermore, a number of EU decisions will have a delayed negative effect – such as, for instance, the economic damage from an import ban on Russian seaborne oil products, which enters into force on 5 February.
All this put together, provided that national interests are taken care of and rational decisions are taken, should have made Member States come to their senses. Yet, alas, we have no grounds to believe that this would be the case. Offering its unqualified support to Kiev, combined with putting overwhelming pressure on Russia, has become a consolidating factor for the EU, something that hardly any European capital would dare question today. Only a major change in EU policy on Ukraine could bring the "sanctions machine" to a halt.
— The EU will have a special sanctions envoy this year. His mission will include persuading third countries to join the anti-Russian restrictions. Could you, please, comment on this initiative?
— The Europeans have not invented anything new in this matter, but have simply copied the US approach. It is surprising how easily the EU has changed its "position of principle" on the incompatibility of the extraterritorial application of unilateral sanctions with international law. Brussels used to widely criticise Washington for forcing US restrictions on third countries. In 1996, the EU even passed a special regulation that prohibits EU economic operators from complying with certain US sanctions laws. Today, Brussels itself aggressively forces anti-Russian restrictions on countries that, realising their inadequacy, refuse to join them voluntarily. In doing so, all means are used, up to and including the threat of criminal prosecution of individuals and the expulsion of companies from the EU market.
— Estonia announced it would present a mechanism for seizing Russian assets in favour of Ukraine in January. What progress have other countries of the alliance made on this issue?
— Unlike Tallinn, other European capitals have so far opted for keeping quiet about their "thieving plans". And Brussels too is racking its brain on inventing a "legal" way to seize property from Russia and its nationals.
As for the seizure of assets of Russian individuals and entities, the European Commission proposed directives on the harmonisation of Member States' legislation on the criminalisation of sanctions circumvention and on asset recovery and confiscation. Work on these legally controversial documents is ongoing. So far, Brussels has been telling off those Member States which it believes are not doing their best to "freeze" the Russian assets. Furthermore, the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, voiced a proposal to create some kind of structure to manage seized Russian state assets, invest them for profit and then hand them over to Kiev. Ms Von der Leyen would not clarify how these plans relate to the universally recognised rule of international law on state property immunity. It is clear that whatever "legal" tricks the EU may come up with to seize Russian assets in favour of Ukraine, such actions will anyway constitute common theft.
— While many European companies left the Russian Federation, chambers of commerce and industry of EU countries continue their work. Can we say that business cooperation has not been suspended?
— It is true that the chambers of commerce and industry of the most economically developed EU Member States continue operating in our country. It testifies to the fact that European businesses are uncomfortable fitting into the paradigm of trade and economic relations with Russia set by official Brussels. Voluntarily giving up the advantages offered to European economic actors by access to and presence on Russia's high-capacity market and ceding their positions to competitors from other regions of the world are hardly part of the long-term plans of serious business players. Nor do Russian economic operators intend to abandon their operations in the EU. Obviously, everyone has to adapt to the new conditions, but they also see certain prospects in continuing their activities. Leaving a market is easier than returning to it.
— Recently, 2022 statistics were published showing that trade between the Russian Federation and the EU increased despite the sanctions. Is this solely due to rising energy prices?
— According to information published by the statistical office Eurostat for the first ten months of 2022, trade between Russia and the EU did increase by 13.8% to €227.7bn compared to the same period in 2021. Given the unprecedented sanctions pressure put on our country over the past year, the figure seems, at first glance, a paradox, if not for two things. First, mutual trade with the EU has seen a rise solely due to the surge in Russian supplies to Europe. Thus, the value of Russian exports to the EU increased by 42.6% to €181.2 billion. In contrast, over the same period, EU goods supplied to Russia decreased by 36.3% to €46.5bn.
Second, one has to admit that a significant rise in global energy market prices has contributed significantly to the increase in the mutual trade indicators, which has resulted in both higher volume and value of Russian fuel and energy exports to the EU compared to January-October 2021. As our exports to the EU are largely dominated by energy products, which accounted for 72.6% of the total value of Russian imports in the first ten months of 2022, the overall increase in mutual trade seems quite reasonable.
— Do you have statistics on how many Russians have been able to obtain Schengen visas since the EU completely suspended the visa facilitation agreement with Russia? Which countries of the alliance take the most balanced approach to this issue?
— Only EU Member States can give a figure for the number of visas issued to Russians. Meanwhile, we note a noticeable decrease in the inflow of Russian citizens due to a number of reasons for which the EU is to blame. Besides the highly complicated visa procedures, the suspension of direct flights and generally negative attitude towards our compatriots have discouraged them from travelling to Europe.
The decision to suspend the aforementioned agreement was taken unanimously by all European capitals, so there is no point in speculating about anyone's balanced approach. This move by Brussels is another example of double standards and evidence of non-compliance with its own obligations. By making it more difficult for Russians to enter its Member States, the EU is violating the principles of freedom of movement and mobility that it once defended. In doing so, Brussels is deliberately curtailing people-to-people contacts that cannot be restored overnight.
— The EU and NATO are taking the partnership "to the next level" vis-a-vis the special military operation. Are all the countries of the EU ready for this, given that some states already face depletion of military stocks?
— I would not link taking the EU-NATO partnership "to the next level" to the special military operation only. While the alliance has long identified Russia as a major security threat, the EU succeeded in sealing the same position in its Strategic Compass defence doctrine adopted last March. In this way, the EU has transformed from a purely economic integration association into a politicised bloc with a notable military component. The former "division of labour" between the two Brussels-based organisations has passed into oblivion – an utterly conscious choice of the EU Member States.
As for depletion of stocks, this is a sensitive issue for many European capitals. The European defence sector has been significantly underfunded in recent years, with inventories kept to a bare minimum. And the military has not ramped up its production capacity either, so it will be difficult to quickly replenish stocks, at least by the efforts of the European defence industry. But this fact cannot in any way hinder the deepening of the EU-NATO partnership. In any case, weapons will be supplied to Ukraine in the largest possible amount – with or without taking cooperation to the next level. All necessary structures within both NATO and the EU are already in place, and the search for available military equipment is carried out on a permanent basis. And those who can deliver something but do not want to yet, will sooner or later be dealt with accordingly.
— The Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine (NSDC), Alexey Danilov, said in early January that representatives of Russia and the EU were discussing a "Korean scenario" for resolving the Ukrainian crisis. Can you confirm such contacts? Would Russia, in principle, accept the EU's involvement in the negotiations to settle the situation in Ukraine?
— There are no contacts between representatives of Russia and the European Union on the Ukrainian settlement, neither in the context of the "Korean option", nor at all. The EU, represented by Germany and France, has once been involved in resolving the internal Ukrainian crisis (said Kirill Logvinov with reference to the Agreement on settlement of political crisis in Ukraine signed on 21 February 2014 – comment by “Izvestiya”). We know too well how it ended.
For eight years, the EU has had the chance to facilitate a solution to the problems that the people of Ukraine faced after the anti-constitutional coup. Instead, as it now appears, the West has been doing its best so that the conflict potential would only increase. At the same time, we see that the EU has discredited itself as a mediator to resolve any crisis situation. It would be merely naive to expect the EU today to jump to an unbiased stance. Brussels has lost both our trust and the one of many other countries.
— Could you, please, elaborate on the functioning of the Permanent Mission amid reduced diplomatic staff and mutual airspace closure?
— The expulsion of our colleagues has certainly affected the functioning of the Permanent Mission. It was part of the EU's policy to isolate Russia internationally. Today, through Brussels’ fault, we are not yet able to return to routine staff rotation at the Mission. Furthermore, the EU diplomatic mission in Moscow is also hurt by EU actions, by virtue of the reciprocity principle. At the same time, we regularly hear people talk about the importance of keeping diplomatic channels open. And this is quite reasonable. Anyway, the EU will have to agree a framework for conflict-free coexistence with us.
— When will Russia's permanent representative to the EU be appointed? Is the appointment delayed due to the existing state of Moscow-Brussels relations? Do we actually need one, under current circumstances?
— To begin with, today there is essentially no relationship as such with the bloc of states that is waging a hybrid war against us. The relationship with the EU is to be built anew. And this process is likely to be long and challenging. Sooner or later we will get down to it, which is why we keep working here. As for the appointment of a permanent representative, it depends above all on when the EU demonstrates its readiness for a political dialogue, the level and content of which would require a permanent representative to be engaged in our working interaction. But first, the EU should, as a well-known aphorism goes, give the anti-Russian fountain a rest – abandon confrontational rhetoric against our country, its leadership and the Russians.