Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov’s interview with Sputnik

Submitted on Wed, 02/08/2017 - 12:38

Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the EU Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov's interview with Sputnik, 8 February 2017

- Ambassador, good afternoon! Let me start with congratulating you on the upcoming professional holiday, the Day of Russian Diplomacy. How will the Permanent Mission of Russia to the EU celebrate it?

- We will host a reception for our colleagues, primarily from the European External Action Service, as well as from various divisions of the European Commission that deal with Russia-EU relations. That will be the official part. On the week-end, we will celebrate with our team in the open air.

- So has the professional holiday become some kind of a platform for informal dialogue with representatives of EU institutions?

- Not only for informal dialogue. By the way, we have invited about 80 people for the reception, and most have already confirmed their participation.

- Let me proceed to the current agenda. Heads of state and government of the 28 EU member states met in Malta last week. Migration and relations with the United States were the main issues they addressed. Do you expect worsening of the EU migration crisis in light of the recent executive order by US President Donald Trump tightening immigration policy in his country?

- Yes and no. This order will have no direct impact here, as those who flee from Africa and the Middle East to Europe do not plan to head onwards to the United States. But of course, the order will have an indirect impact, as it is bound to reinforce those sentiments in the European Union that resonate with the views of President Trump.

- Will it resonate with popular mood across Europe?

- Not only. This can relate to the mood of political forces, and not only of eurosceptics, who are in favour of limiting immigration into the European Union. These people can start feeling indirect support of their views from across the ocean. Even if you take a close look at the declaration on migration adopted by 28 EU leaders in Malta, you will see that there is no “welcoming embrace” in it. The declaration, carefully choosing words, expresses desire to curb the influx of migrants. Migration situation in the European Union is not becoming any easier. I would even say that it is becoming increasingly complex day by day.

- During the recent Malta summit, EU leaders discussed the latest developments in the United States and EU-US relations. How do you assess statements made by EU leaders at the summit? What kind of EU-US relationship should one expect?

- Criticism toward the European Union from across the ocean could be heard both in the course of Donald Trump’s campaign and after the election, in recent months and weeks. And it was coming not only from Mr. Trump personally, but also from the newly-appointed Secretary of State and some other members of the new administration, including, according to media reports, from the potential candidate for the post of US Permanent Representative to the European Union. In this regard, leaders of major groups of the European Parliament even found it necessary to write letters to top EU officials with proposal to block his nomination.

I think relations between the European Union and the United States will not become any easier in the near future, but I will stress that we are not gloating about it.

- Can this somehow impact EU relations not only with Russia and Ukraine, but also with Eastern Partnership countries?

- Judging by the reaction both in the European Union and in the United States to the latest surge of military activities in the Donbass region, I can say that some sobering and understanding of the real situation is gradually coming.

- As Russia's Permanent Representative to the EU, you are in touch with both EU leadership and business communities. In your view, how has their relation to Russia changed in recent months?

- Some did not need any evolution as they clearly expressed their position from the very beginning. This relates in particular to business representatives not only from European, but also from multinational and American companies that I am in touch with. As for politicians, here one can find the most diverse range of attitudes towards our country.

- Do you feel any evolution towards a more positive attitude to Russia?

- In general, yes, of course. There is a gradual rise of awareness of the futility of the current EU policy of maintaining tensions with Russia, and of the deadlock that the sanctions policy has led to. The tipping point is close. It won’t be long now before a critical mass is there.

- Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel speaking in Davos recently did not rule out the possibility of either tightening or lifting the EU anti-Russian sanctions during this year. What is the mood in the European Union at the moment? Is the EU leadership ready indeed to roll back the restrictive measures against Russia?

- Mr. Bettel is not unique on this. Similar statements were made by other EU leaders as well. Of course, there are some diehard politicians who talk about tightening sanctions, but they are becoming fewer and fewer, I can assure you. How to overcome the current deadlock with sanctions – whether by gradually rolling them back or lifting them at once, is a choice the European Union needs to make on its own.

- In general, what is the mood of the EU leadership regarding the anti-Russia sanctions now?

- They made up this linkage between the economic restrictive measures and the implementation of the Minsk Agreements as an element for their self-justification. After all, this linkage was invented not from the very beginning, but only when the sanctions were already in place. This linkage was a response to the sentiments that had already emerged by that time in favour of rolling back or lifting the restrictive measures. EU leadership needed to come up with some criterion for lifting the sanctions, and they did not find anything better than to introduce a totally artificial criterion of linking it with the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. The parties to the conflict, Kiev and the Donbass, as well as three facilitators - Russia, Germany and France – were signatories to the Minsk Agreements. Kiev, unwilling and lately, as observations show, simply unable to fulfill its obligations, seeks to pass it on to someone else. I think, the fact that the European Union has de-facto adopted Kiev’s logic is a key moment here. As a result, our relations with the European Union have become hostage to this artificial linkage with the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

- And will they agree on the removal of this linkage?  

- They have already pushed themselves into a corner. It is hard to make steps back from this position. But they will have to.

- Will the European Union after all exercise some pressure on Kiev to implement Minsk Agreements? 

- I have been asking EU officials what else Kiev should do to sabotage these agreements for them to start thinking about sanctioning Kiev. I did not get any answer. Their answer to any mentioning of the role of the Ukrainian authorities in this matter is the same: "We are working with Kiev." This, I must admit, is not far from the truth, but the effect of this work is hardly significant.

- Yes, at least they keep the appearance of a loyal attitude to Kiev. But I have an impression there behind the rhetoric is no inner work to put pressure on Kiev.

- That is quite possibly true. Where is the result? That is the question. To say nothing about the Donbass, at least on the way of reforms, which the European Unions and others are expecting from Kiev.

- Do you think the EU visa-free regime with Ukraine may lead to active immigration from Ukraine to the countries of the Union? Can this aggravate the migration crisis?

- It is not a coincidence that the issue of visa-free regime with Ukraine is now directly and firmly linked in the EU institutions with the adoption of a mechanism for its suspension in the event of abuse. The visa-free regime is being considered for short trips. So if someone in Ukraine intends to use this opportunity to enter into the European Union and stay there forever, I think that the EU will find appropriate ways to prevent it.

- And do they really have the mechanism to control the movement of travellers?

- Yes, sure. A visa-free regime does not imply the abolition of passport control.

- So if people arrive for a week and then stay for longer, do the relevant EU services immediately notice it?

- Of course.

- UK Prime Minister Theresa May said recently that Brexit would follow a so-called “hard scenario” and would also entail exit from the single market. Can it lead to negative economic consequences in the European Union?

- Everyone will feel the damage. The European Union is increasingly eager to make Brexit a “hard-scenario divorce.” Not only in order to punish the British - that goes without saying - but also to discourage others and prevent possible repetitions of Brexit in other member states. EU leadership and heads of member states have explicitly warned that if someone in the United Kingdom thinks that a new partnership with the European Union will be better for them after the country’s exit from the Union, they are wrong – it will be worsen. The desire to shift the whole Brexit burden onto the British side is a natural reaction. On the other hand, EU interests will also suffer.

- What consequences should one expect?

- The trick is in the following. Prime Minister May can announce the start of the procedure of the country's exit from the EU on 9 March. For the EU, it is important that it would not take place on 25 March, on the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the EU. Then it would have been an unwelcome gift from Britain. So, starting on March 9 the UK and the EU will have two years to negotiate the terms of the "divorce". If an agreement on the issue is reached by 9 March 2019, good. If not, then the toughest scenario will follow – “cut-off Brexit”, as they say. Let us take an optimistic prospect: the United Kingdom and the European institutions have agreed. But the United Kingdom must somehow set future relations with the EU and individual member states.

- Sign new trade and economic agreements?

- Yes. In the meantime, while the Brexit negotiations will be underway, there can be no new bilateral agreements between the UK and the countries of the Union. Thus, the process of concluding bilateral agreements on future trade and economic relations between the UK and EU member states can only begin in March 2019. And how one should live in the meantime? After all, the conclusion of these agreements could again take years. So, the United Kingdom, of course, would like to have a kind of interim agreement. And it will be one of the very interesting plots in this story.

- Look. There is London City, and it is not yet clear what will happen to it in connection with Brexit. From time to time, we see spikes in problems in the EU banks; in addition, there are problems with Greece. Against this background, can the difficulties that Brexit might cause, lead to some serious economic problems in the EU? You talk with businessmen, aren’t they afraid that all this might cause a serious economic crisis in the Union?

- Business, of course, hedges risks. They will monitor the negotiations on Brexit closely. Already now, even before the beginning of the negotiations, businessmen are trying to bring an understanding to those who will lead these negotiations of the need to have their interests taken into consideration.

- So should we expect a major crisis or not?

- Would you like to have one?

- No...

- Then don’t expect one.

- French presidential candidates who top the ratings, are in favour of closer ties with Russia. Since France is one of the largest EU countries, its political weight is one of the largest  here...

- The French also emphasise that after the UK withdrawal from the EU, the Union will be left with only one nuclear power and permanent member of the UN Security Council.

... And if the supporters of rapprochement with Russia get into power, would it affect political attitudes across the EU, because the voice of France is one of the strongest in Europe?

- Yes. If you ask me the same question with respect to the upcoming elections in Germany, I could reply with even more confident yes.

So we will be able to see a changing political climate in the EU in the coming years, including positive shift in relations with Russia?

- I think one can definitely count on that. In any case, here in Brussels we are working in that direction.