The European Union is preparing to adopt a tenth "package" of sanctions against Russia by 24 February. Do you think the EU would reach the necessary consensus to do so?
To begin with, the EU's unilateral restrictive measures are illegitimate. We emphasise this not because they apply specifically to Russia, but because they were taken without the approval of the UN Security Council. Thus, they are, by definition, unlawful. Now that the EU has adopted these sanctions, all its words of adherence to the UN Charter, including Article 41 of Chapter 7, are lip service.
Moreover, the EU is also seeking to make it a criminal offence for third countries to circumvent or facilitate the circumvention of restrictions. The latter is nothing else than an attempt to influence Russia's international trade and economic relations.
Inventing its own “rules”, the EU wants others to follow them. This runs counter to both international law and WTO norms.
We will not speculate on the extent to which the anti-Russian sanctions have already affected the economy of the European Union and its Member States. However, this negative impact is unlikely to be missing in the assessments made by Brussels and European capitals. The more difficult it would seem to find a logical explanation why 27 countries are willing to "bite the hand that feeds them". But this is now happening for the tenth time.
The political decision for a new "package" was taken back when the previous one was passed. This fervour can only be explained by the anti-Russian basis of the consensus within the EU today.
And we see no signs of abandoning a tough confrontation with our country. True, many European capitals clearly find it difficult to justify the expediency of imposing certain restrictions, detrimental to their national interests. But at the same time, there is no reason to believe that the European capitals will not deal with this "successfully" one more time.
What sensitive areas may new restrictions target? What will Russia’s response be?
Obviously, all sanctions are aimed at trying to undermine and weaken Russia's economy. However, the past year has shown that it has managed to adapt.
New EU sanctions will be met with new Russian solutions. The tenth "package" will certainly not be left without a response.
The main difference, though, is that the aim of the Western restrictions, as stated by the EU leadership, is to hit the Russians hard, while our response does not seek to worsen the socio-economic situation of the Europeans.
EU representatives have repeatedly expressed their readiness to negotiate with Russia on Ukraine, but stated they see no political will on the Russian side to start a peace process. Has Brussels approached you to clarify Russia’s stance on eventually launching negotiations?
At no stage - neither today nor after the 2014 anti-constitutional coup [in Ukraine] - has the European Union expressed its readiness to negotiate anything related to Ukraine with us. We have no contacts on the Ukrainian issue with EU diplomats in Brussels.
How has the position of European Union Member States on Russia and the conflict in Ukraine evolved? How united are they at the moment?
From today's perspective, it is quite difficult to judge what the EU's approach to the Ukrainian conflict has been and how it has changed. Since the start of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, Brussels and European capitals have been making contradictory statements on security guarantees, the most fundamental issue for us.
One day, Western countries ignored our call to sit down at the negotiation table, treating any relevant Russian proposals as a kind of ultimatum. Another day, European politicians argued that a stable security architecture could not be built without Russia.
Well, after the well-known declarations by France and Germany, guarantors of the implementation of the Minsk agreements, one can only wonder how serious their intentions were to contribute to a Ukrainian settlement.
Which states' policies seem more reasonable and balanced to you?
We do not attempt to assess how balanced an EU Member State's policy is, as we see no logic whatsoever in the European Union's actions.
The situation is, of course, nuanced: a number of EU Member States have openly claimed that anti-Russian sanctions leave a mark on their national interests. But still, I would repeat, the unity of the European capitals with regard to us is built around the task of inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia.
Earlier, for the first time ever, the US handed over confiscated Russian assets to Ukraine – similar rhetoric is also voiced in the EU. What premises for such step do you see in the EU?
There are, of course, no legal premises for transferring confiscated, or actually stolen, Russian assets to Ukraine. As for the Russian Central Bank's assets, they enjoy immunity from any enforcement measures in accordance with universally recognised norms of international law.
As for the property of Russian citizens, Brussels is now urgently trying to devise a kind of "legal basis" to seize it – in particular, to criminalise the violation of illegitimate unilateral EU sanctions. In doing so, they disregard both their own "principled" position on the incompatibility of the extraterritorial application of restrictive measures with international law and the fundamental non-retroactivity principle in criminal law. Not to mention the complete contempt for the right to property.
Thus, for opportunistic reasons, the EU is ready to undermine the basic principles of the law.
What will Russia’s response be?
Of course, Russia will respond appropriately and such actions will not go unanswered. The main thing will be to protect the interests of our country and the legitimate rights of Russian citizens.
Would you allow for a scenario where the work of the Russian Mission to the EU could be suspended, as was the case with the Russian Mission to NATO?
I would not draw parallels between the two Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels. The blame for the actions which led to the decision to suspend the activities of our Mission to NATO lies entirely with the North Atlantic Alliance. We are not painting any scenarios for ourselves. We continue our work to deliver on the goals laid before us by the leadership of our country and the ministry.
EU Member States continue not only to impose new sanctions, but also to provide Ukraine with arms and millions of cash in economic aid packages. What are the "red lines" beyond which Russia could "slam the door" and break off diplomatic relations with individual members of the European Union and the organisation as a whole?
Slamming the door is not our method. Threatening to break off diplomatic relations without good reason would be wrong.
Such decisions should be taken responsibly. And the idioms used today, such as "red lines", "cross the Rubicon", show that our relations with the West are indeed undergoing the deepest crisis in recent times.
The EU continuing to raise the stakes - imposing endless sanctions, pumping weapons into Ukraine - further exacerbates the confrontation with us.
One thing is clear: the EU is a party to the conflict, whether it admits it or not.
What do you think of the statements made by the President of the European Council Charles Michel that "the future of Ukraine is in the European Union"? What are, in your view, the chances for Ukraine to join the EU?
We take this and other similar statements as political slogans, with no basis whatsoever. Moreover, I would presume that many, if not most, EU citizens share this view to a certain degree.
Ukraine's obtaining candidate status and its actual accession to the EU are two different things. The former is an opportunistic decision that caused, inter alia, disappointment and even indignation in those countries that had been seeking EU membership for years and had already made huge efforts in this direction. As for an enlargement, be it Ukraine or other states, today the EU does not seem to be ready to soberly assess the risks it would pose to the alliance.
How can Russia respond to Ukraine's accession to the EU?
There is no sense elaborating on that. Initially, when it concerned deep economic integration of Ukraine as part of the work on the Association Agreement with the EU, our country suggested we discuss its implications in the context of the then existing trade and economic commitments regarding Russia. At this point, we do not find it relevant any longer.
EU statistics show that in January-November 2022, Russian imports to its Member States, despite the sanctions, did not fall, but rather increased compared to 2021. What, in your view, is the reason behind such growth and what does it mean?
Indeed, according to data from Eurostat for January-November 2022, trade between Russia and the EU augmented by 8.7 per cent to €246.5 billion compared to the same period in 2021. However, during the eleven months of last year mutual trade saw an expansion solely due to greater Russian supplies to Europe.
Thus, Russian exports to the European Union in January-November 2022 rose by 34.1 per cent to reach €194.9 billion, a historic high for the first eleven months of a year.
Such growth in our exports to EU countries was facilitated by a surge in prices on the world energy market, which resulted in an increase in the value of Russian supplies of fuel and energy products to the European Union, in addition to physical volumes.
As our exports to the EU are largely dominated by energy products, which accounted for around 73 per cent of the total value of Russian imports to the EU in the first eleven months of 2022, the afore-mentioned higher figures seem quite reasonable.
In contrast, EU exports to Russia have fallen sharply. How would you assess the consequences thereof for the Russian economy?
As for the EU goods supplied to Russia over the same period, they did fall by 36.7 per cent to €51.6 billion. In all likelihood, this downward trend will continue this year.
Of course, such fluctuations in EU-Russian trade, caused by the sanctions pressure on our country, have primarily affected the supply of high-tech products from the EU to Russia. Yet, the Russian economy has already proven its ability to adapt to the changing trade conditions with the West.
What kind of everyday challenges and obstacles from the local authorities has the Permanent Mission been facing since 24 February 2022? How has the expulsion of diplomats affected the work of the Mission?
Like all our colleagues working in EU Member States, we are facing certain everyday challenges. They are related to the sanctions imposed against Russia, but we are counting on Belgium, as the host country, to comply with the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The expulsion of Russian diplomats last April was an utterly opportunistic and ill-conceived decision. We are not the only ones who openly admit this. It was pushed by those European capitals which do not have the same workload as we do here in Brussels or the European Union diplomatic mission has in Moscow.
The geopolitical situation has altered the nature of our work, but its objectives remain unchanged – to promote Russian approaches in Brussels.
Why is the appointment of a new permanent representative of Russia to the EU delayed? Is it only due to political reasons or are there any procedural difficulties?
There is no delay. A political dialogue should be established between Russia and the EU, the content of which would require maintaining it specifically at a permanent representative level.
As of now, we have ongoing working contacts with the European institutions to discuss and address issues that are more of a technical nature.
One day, Russia and the EU will most likely have to build their relationship anew. When and on what terms would this process be possible, in your view?
Anew is a key word here. We do not seek to bring our relations with the EU to their previous level. We intend to carefully examine the reasons for the collapse of bilateral cooperation, draw relevant conclusions and determine, proceeding from Russian domestic political priorities and international interests, how we would envisage our future co-existence with the European Union.
For a start, the EU should demonstrate its ability to listen to us and stop taking demands to respect our national interests as a pre-requisite for a renewed dialogue.
Overall, a discussion with us is only possible subject to an end to the hybrid war the EU is waging today against Russia.