Russia’s Role in the World
A wish for somebody to live in interesting times used to be considered a curse in ancient China. Today it’s anybody’s guess whether there is some truth in that. But I think everybody present here will agree that we indeed live in amazing times – the times of change, and this change is quite dramatic. The bipolar world we got used to in the second half of the 20th century did have a range of deficiencies but also secured something that was extremely important, namely stability. Despite all efforts within the last 20 years a unipolar world never fully materialised – notwithstanding the illusions of those who expected to be able to manage all geopolitical processes and came to believe in their own exclusiveness. Another, multipolar world has emerged reflecting objective change in balance among countries and whole regions. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was eloquent in illustrating this idea saying that should the composition of G7 be defined by the level of economic development, by 2050 no European country would qualify to be a member. That is, of course, if the G7 itself survives until then – as its most recent summit in Canada has shown, there is a big question mark regarding that. I will leave it to you to draw a comparison with another major multilateral event which happened to coincide with the above-mentioned gathering, namely the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which, by the way, already today is more powerful in economic terms, to say nothing of the fact that it comprises half of the world’s population.
Ultimately, a multipolar order is likely to establish, at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, a sustainable balance of everybody’s interests. But this will certainly not happen overnight. An increasing conflict potential throughout the world is, unfortunately, inherent to the current phase of its development. Space for constructive international cooperation is shrinking. As President Vladimir Putin stressed at this year’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, “Game without rules is becoming the rule”. New tools to apply force, including in the fields of economy and information, are emerging. The issue is no longer just threat of force (forbidden as it is by the UN Charter), but direct unjustified and unfounded use of force serving short-term tactical interests upon invented, even if sometimes ridiculous, pretext.
As for economic competition among different countries of the world, much in this process is healthy and objective. The bad thing is that politics progressively interfere in this process. And the result is complete disregard towards international law and dangerous combination of all-permissiveness, on the one side, and radicalism, on the other, becoming the new normal.
First of all, it is manifested in substituting international law in its classical form established after the Second World War with the UN Charter at its heart, by so-called “rules-based international order”. Those in the West applying and popularising this term prefer not to precise either the contents or the origin of these new rules. Secondly, the elaborate system of restrictions designed in the 20th century covering, among others, the deadliest of weapons, is being progressively diluted. I believe it should be a source of grave concern.
One can not say all this happened unexpectedly. Actually, Russian diplomacy had foreseen much of that. We had been warning in advance what risky campaigns in Iraq and Libya would lead to. And the developments in Ukraine following the coup in 2014 were predictable (it was undoubtedly a coup, taking into account how the change of power happened and its consequences). We regret that our warnings were not listened to.
On the other hand, there were attempts to persuade us that the EU “Eastern Partnership” project is ostensibly not aimed against Russian interests. However, we witness quite a sorrow picture in Ukraine that once was presented with a choice: either “towards a bright future” with the West or “backwards to the dark past” with Russia.
I do not want to exaggerate, but today there are attempts to make certain countries of the CIS area and the Western Balkans face a similar choice. Aspirations of Balkan countries to join the EU have never been an issue for us. They are in their own right. We proceed from the fact that the Balkans should not be an area of confrontation, but a platform for establishing mutually beneficial cooperation that would primarily benefit the region.
The Balkans are our historic partner. Russia contributed decisively to the statehood of many Balkan countries during Russo-Turkish wars of the 19th century, the First and Second World Wars. The most eloquent example is the war our country fought in 1877-78 that may probably be called the most altruistic war in world history. Tens of thousands of our soldiers and volunteers gave their lives to liberate Bulgaria from the Ottoman rule and gain full independence for Serbia, Montenegro and Romania. Russia received nothing in return except another portion of denigration and restrictions from London, Paris and Berlin.
The 20th century saw our soldiers taking part in clearing the Balkans from the Nazi plague, and the price they paid for victory was no less than the one their forefathers had paid a century before.
Notwithstanding such a significant sacrifice for the sake of freedom and independence of Balkan nations, Russia – contrary to certain Western powers – does not aspire to any exclusive rights there, does not dictate a development vector to Balkan countries, does not impose friends or enemies on them. Establishing genuinely fraternal, equal and mutually beneficial relations with all Balkan countries has always been a constant priority for Russia. I am convinced that this policy meets the core interests of all peoples of the region and its potential may be effectively fulfilled within open cooperation with all stakeholders rather than within closed military, political and economic structures. That gives you perhaps an indication of how my country views the most recent developments in relations between Greece and one of its immediate neighbours.
But let me come back to more global issues. Unfortunately, today we have to state another regrettable fact – the loss of culture of diplomacy by many countries. And, even more regrettably, is has turned out to be contagious: only in recent months we witnessed a whole range of PR campaigns in the now famous “highly likely” style launched by Western countries. There were unfounded accusations on the quite controversial “Skripal case” (it was said to be investigated later, but Russia was blamed form the outset), and then on alleged use of chemical substances in the Syrian town of Douma (claiming it had been Bashar al-Assad with the connivance of Russia; an investigation should have been held, but before it started Syrian government facilities were bombed a little), and then at the end of May regarding new but still unconvincing results of the so-called “independent” investigation of the Malaysian MH17 crash over Ukraine in 2014 (“we know Russia did it, we don’t need to listen to its arguments, we just demand its confession”).
For more than a year now some people keep talking about Russian interference in elections in almost all the European countries, admitting they can not provide evidence because it is classified. You would agree this is a good excuse. By the way, I would like to appeal to you right now, in advance – if somebody does not like the results of the 2019 European Parliament elections do not blame “the Russian trace” as there won’t be one.
Today’s international environment does not allow to stand idle without pushing back the negative trends we all see. Therefore, Russia is active in the international arena. And it is not alone, it works with all those who are ready for constructive cooperation in addressing the most acute issues of global politics.
This is the approach we are guided by to developing relations with our European partners. In today’s dynamic, highly competitive and quite dangerous world Russia and the European Union, naturally complementing each other, have no plausible alternative to cooperating and uniting their potentials. This is the reason why we are not taking off the agenda the idea of building a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, however utopian it may seem today. Within this context there is a relevant topical issue of “integrating integrations” that may start with establishing systemic contacts between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, as well as between their respective commissions.
I am convinced that Russia and EU countries, being two pillars of our common European civilisation, are destined to interact. We are also united by deep historical ties even if they are sometimes controversial. We have close cultural and civilisational bonds. Being a natural part of the European civilisation, Russia is proud of its unique identity forged throughout history. As for values such as democracy and human rights we believe they are universal and nations of the world have the right to be guided by them with full respect for their diversity and national specifics. Western countries should not try to monopolise these values and impose their own interpretation of them on others. It may lead to irrevocable consequences. And certainly the slogan “United by values, divided by tariffs” is a non-starter. Our multipolar world demands fair competition for ideas and values to the same extent as the one for goods and services. Besides, if the European Union is unable to agree on values with such a close and kindred country as Russia, how can it look forward to mutual understanding with representatives of more distinct cultures of Asia and Africa? I would add that we, Russians, never give lessons to anybody. It is a cornerstone of our foreign policy. And we are certainly not in the business of assigning dedicated lodgings in either heaven or hell to anybody. But we expect to be treated with the same respect, without being lectured or spoken to in didactic tone.
I may also state with all the certitude that all attempts to blame Russia for trying to drive a wedge between the EU countries, or between the European institutions and member states are nothing but groundless slander and malicious denigration. Besides, there have been reportedly other contenders for that role.
As President Putin noted in a recent interview with Austrian ORF TV channel, we want to see a united and prosperous European Union, which is our biggest trade and economic partner. The more problems there are within the European Union, the greater the risks and uncertainties for us. Just one figure: we keep 40 per cent of our gold and currency reserves in the euro. Why should we shake up the single European currency or rock the European Union? It is a rhetoric question, of course.
I have been directly dealing with Russia-EU relations for almost 20 years and I am convinced that we have a solid and objective basis for cooperation in a broad range of fields – those that we cooperate in today, those that are still frozen on Brussels initiative and those we have not touched upon yet.
Lately, I have been describing the current state of Russia-EU relations as abnormal. The reasons are quite obvious. Having said that, though, I think everybody would agree that there is no sense in getting back to old cooperation schemes, to “business as usual”. Let us leave slogans and romantic words behind. We should concentrate on addressing current challenges both in bilateral and international relations in a pragmatic way. And the pragmatic basis of our cooperation is still there – Russian and EU interests coincide on many issues in today’s multipolar world.
Besides, let’s not forget: there is a whole world beyond Europe and Russia.
Constructive and uniting prospects of our cooperation – from trade to combating new challenges and threats – are genuinely enormous. We just need to manage them correctly. I hope our European partners will gradually start realising that until they are ready for this both Russia and the European Union will be in a lose-lose situation. I hope that will only be temporary. I want to believe that the current internal reflection of EU member states will result in elaborating some fresh, realistic and long-term approaches towards interacting with my country that would not be subject to current political trends or whims of individual polititians.
And to conclude my remarks in an optimistic way I would like to say a few words about our genuinely special partners – the Greek hosts of today’s conference. You would find few countries on the world map that Russia shares such a rich history of relations and broad bonds with. And though on the historic perspective official diplomatic relations are not that long – I would remind you that this year Russia and Greece celebrate their 190th anniversary – the history of fraternal ties between Russian and Greek peoples dates back more than a thousand years.
Closely interwoven fates, mutual cultural influence, orthodox world-view and spiritual bonds of our peoples became a good basis to develop our modern relations that are on the rise today. Moscow and Athens have similar approaches to many topical international issues. Russia and Greece may firmly count on mutual assistance in strengthening peace, stability and security on the European continent as was confirmed during the visit of Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias to Moscow only two days ago.
We qualify our relations with Athens as valuable per se, not depending on fluctuations of political situation. We are interested in their further strengthening on the basis of mutually beneficial character and taking into account each other’s interests. And I am personally interested in maintaining a wonderful tradition of coming here regularly to “compare notes” on important international issues, something I find quite useful.