Statement by Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov at the "More or Less Europe? Ideas Lab" conference. Brussels, 27 February 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to briefly outline three key points, which, I feel, may help to kick off today’s discussion.

First. The Ukraine crisis has put the Russia-EU strategic relationship under an unprecedented strain. Despite the absence of clear ideological divisions between Russia and the West, characteristic of the Cold War, our countries have once again found themselves on different sides of the metaphorical barricades.

Obviously, we can debate at length who is to blame for this turn of events. Our view point on the origins of the Ukraine crisis is well known. Much more important, however, are the longer-term undercurrents that have been accompanying the crisis: waves of unilateral restrictive measures, blockage of political dialogue and vital economic projects, as well as resurgence of wild accusatory propaganda, unparalleled in modern history. We have seemingly lost the ability or interest in hearing each other and having faith, at the very least, in the reality of our mutual interests and concerns. All these factors combined are generating an enduring rift across the European continent. The irrational and dangerous argument in favour of supplying arms to the conflict zone in Ukraine, debated by some even within the EU, is a prime indicator of how far the situation has deteriorated. 

In other words, I fear we are approaching a worrisome threshold, beyond which lies a future fraught with unpredictability and grave risk.

Second. The systemic crisis facing the European continent, while having Ukraine as its immediate focus, extends far beyond that country. The 12 February Minsk agreements, hopefully, will provide a durable platform for a political settlement in Ukraine. We can all agree, I believe, that for those agreements to be a success, the parties to the conflict need to fully implement their respective commitments. Among those I personally would single out those related to launching a genuine inclusive process of national dialogue and reconciliation, constitutional reform and decentralization in Ukraine, which in time may help to heal the wounds of the current conflict.

However, much more comprehensive solutions are needed for Europe to become a truly united continent, based on the premise of indivisibility of security, where “security for one is security for all”. These are not my words, but those of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the 2007 Munich Conference, where he spoke at length about our concerns related to eastward NATO expansion, imposition of new dividing lines in Europe and erosion of the legal framework of European security. Unfortunately, it seems that long before the Ukraine crisis our countries have been “sleepwalking”, to use a popular expression, into a geopolitical storm. In my view, this turn of events could have been averted, had we been able to handle our mutual interests in a more thorough and considerate manner. This, by the way, was one of the key messages of the recent report commissioned by the British House of Lords.

Third. Russia and EU countries have a pivotal role to play in putting a stop to the downward spiral in our relationship and returning to a trajectory of mutual trust and growth. It is beyond doubt that resuming “business as usual” will not suffice. Once the Ukraine crisis is firmly behind us and all the sanctions removed, we will need to jointly work on constructing a durable “common European house” – something we aimed for but never managed to complete at the dawn of the 90s. Seen through the prism of the Russia-EU relationship, this will require us to think strategically about modernizing and enhancing our mutually complementary economic potentials, synchronizing European and Eurasian integration processes, as well as prospects for untapping human talent across Europe, in particular by removing visa barriers. This is a long and winding road, but it is the only one that, in my view, will enable Russia and the EU to ultimately build a Europe of peace and prosperity for all to share in.