Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov's interview with the Diplomatic World magazine, 27 March 2017
Russia-EU relations have been plagued by considerable differences in the recent years. Is there a path forward?
My country has invariably sought to construct a durable, mutually beneficial and multi-faceted relationship with the European Union. Over the preceding decades we have been investing arduous efforts in developing trade and investment ties between our countries, underpinning them with a coherent institutionalised structure of political and sectoral dialogue, including summit meetings twice a year. The rapid evolution of our relationship, which benefitted millions of people and households in both Russia and the EU, was no easy feat. But it rested on the joint understanding that our common long-term interests and civilisational affinity clearly overweigh any differences, real or imagined.
The crisis in Ukraine caught us in the midst of work on a whole range of potentially game-changing issues, including negotiations on a New Basic Agreement and visa liberalisation. The questionable role played by well-known Western factors in political destabilisation of Ukraine during the winter of 2013-2014, as well as subsequent unilateral EU decisions have brought significant damage to the burgeoning matrix of our relationship. The results are plain for everyone to see. Parts of what the EU had termed our “common neighbourhood” have become seriously destabilised. Numerous economic opportunities have been lost, depriving the EU of badly-needed jobs, growth and access to markets. Misguided decisions to freeze channels of dialogue have weakened EU’s own abilities to respond to common trans-border challenges like terrorism, organized crime, illegal migration, WMD proliferation and climate change. Sadly, some within the EU choose to persevere, even to their own detriment, in exploiting archaic stereotypes to conjure up a hostile image of Russia.
The path forward indeed exists. Ultimately, I believe, our strong interdependence and the array of common challenges Russia and the EU face leave us little choice but to continue to pragmatically search for avenues of mutually beneficial cooperation. Obviously, for this to happen, both sides need to treat each other as equals, demonstrate goodwill, consideration and respect for each other’s interests. With such attitude there would hardly be any insurmountable problems or obstacles between us.
Is there a chance of recovering ties of strategic partnership between Russia and the EU or another vision for the future?
I have invariably compared the notion of the Russia-EU “strategic partnership” to an ocean pebble, as round from frequent use and as difficult to firmly grasp. Certainly, whatever our differences, Russia and the EU are bound to remain interlocked in a relationship of strategic nature, regardless of the slogan attached to it.
From a long-term perspective, in my view, there is no other way except to continue down the road we embarked on – towards building a greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok. This ambitious task has been enshrined in every single foreign policy concept of the Russian Federation, including the most recent one, adopted by decree of President Vladimir Putin on 30 November 2016. The creative institution-building process currently unfolding within the Eurasian Economic Union, with active input by Russia, is yet another testimony to the promising potential of gradual convergence between the leading projects of regional integration in Europe and Eurasia.
Thankfully, we hear more and more voices inside the EU arguing for a fundamental rethink of the failed policies of confrontation. The question when they will succeed in accumulating a critical mass in EU decision-making remains open.
Europe is facing an unprecedented number of internal and external challenges, including terrorism. How can Russia contribute to tackling them?
The Russian people, alas, have faced deadly encounters with the scourge of international terrorism. Long before even the 9/11 attacks in the United States we had been warning our Western partners to be vigilant in the face of this mounting threat. Today, in the wake of attacks and infiltration of European cities, it is of utmost importance that our countries bundle their efforts in jointly countering and ultimately defeating terrorist groups like the Islamic State, or Daesh, and their known associates. Playing geopolitical games with confirmed extremists, as we have seen in Syria and elsewhere, will invariably backfire.
The same holds true for numerous other trans-border challenges, to which we are equally exposed as neighbours in this part of the Eurasian landmass. There is thus a strong case for resuming systemic dialogue and coordination between Russia and the EU at every level. It is only by talking to each other that we will be able to incrementally rebuild our constructive agenda and get our relationship back on the right track. The resumption of regular dialogue on counter-terrorism as well as continuing cooperation in the area of migration are welcome signs in this regard.