Recently the number of conferences, round tables and publications on existential matters in Brussels notably increased. Actually, the questions Europeans are asking themselves are quite topical: “How would the EU be able to become a full-fledged global player in the rapidly changing multipolar world?”, “How to react to rapid development of the Asia-Pacific region?” and “What should you do if your major transatlantic partner demonstrates in every way possible that your relations are not his priority any longer?”.
In my view, there is only one answer to these questions, and it is fairly obvious. It is time to concentrate on implementing the concept of establishing a Greater Eurasia, the most natural and far-sighted today, combining the capacities of the two largest integration projects coexisting on our continent – the EAEU and the EU.
It is worth noting that the EU is taking certain steps in this direction, promoting the project called “Europe and Asia Connectivity”. But, alas, they take a “parochial view” on this very connectivity and “hog the limelight”, if I may put it this way. I believe though that the idea of connectivity can only be efficiently implemented if taken as inclusive connectivity, i.e. conjugating from a geopolitical point of view different Eurasian projects, including the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative.
I would state with no false modesty that Russia has a unique role of a key nexus in setting up such an inclusive connectivity. It is due to a major extent, of course, to its geographic position and economic potential, but also its recently increased political weight – a fact universally acknowledged by now. We are the only country maintaining normal relations with all elements of Greater Eurasia that comprises, in my view, states of the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia.
It is well known that the times are gone when international relations were relatively simple with the majority of countries acting according to the principle “either you are with us, or against us”. It is also up to us to decide whether we continue witnessing a growing number of conflicts in the world with diverse sets of participating parties or finally get mature enough to be able to deal with common problems in an “adult way”.
International law is a crucial instrument for preventing a “fight of all against all”. One can only be alarmed at obstinate aspiration of a number of countries to wilfully interpret generally accepted approaches enshrined in the UN Charter presenting that as some kind of a “rules-based international order”. Moreover, these rules are elaborated behind closed doors by a small group of countries and changed according to the current political environment. In fact, such an order implies double or even triple standards: some countries consider themselves to be bound by neither the law nor even the rules, others are obliged to act in transatlantic solidarity with them and a third group can be accused of anything without evidence of wrongdoing. If such trend is not stopped, international relations will soon be no different from a jungle. At the same time I would note that certain states have obviously acquired a taste for breaking established political traditions and legal frames as they want – of course, I am referring not only to the detective series unfolding on Capitol Hill and in the White House, but also to a somewhat protracted story that is becoming increasingly similar to “soap opera” called Brexit.
Coming back to the issue of building an optimal scheme of our further cohabitation, I believe that everybody realises that only by joining efforts can we cope with such global challenges as climate change, for instance. Obviously, attempts by individual countries or even groups of countries to reduce their pollutant indicators and present these achievements as a “gold standard” benchmark for the rest of the world are doomed to fail. It is more than naive to hope for a sustainable result without inclusive and jointly elaborated approach to combating global climate change, taking into account differences in economic development of states, geography and even historical traditions. Surprisingly, it does not occur to certain young fervent fighters for clean air in Northern Europe that billions of people in other parts of the world can only dream of living standards of European or US level regardless of the damage to environment.
As far as Russia-EU and, relevantly, EAEU-EU interaction is concerned, the following is clear. For 30 years our country and the European Union have remained key economic partners, but the recovery growth factor in mutual trade recorded over the past couple of years is by now largely exhausted. Therefore, resumption of sustainable positive dynamics in trade and economic relations is hardly possible without substantial efforts, including at political level, from both sides.
It is with regret that I have to note that for Brussels developing trade and economic relations neither with the biggest market bordering the EU namely Russia, nor with the EAEU common market were recently not among its top priorities. And by the way, though our colleagues in Brussels still prefer considering EU trade with each of our countries separately, the EAEU is the third largest trade partner of the EU – leaving Switzerland far behind and giving way only to the US and PRC. According to Eurostat, total trade turnover between the five EAEU countries and the EU Member States amounted to 292.3 billion euros in 2018. Trade and investment dialogue, as most other bilateral Russia-EU dialogue mechanisms, has been frozen for political reasons, leading to lower mutual understanding and increased number of problematic issues.
Meanwhile, we managed to gradually re-establish cooperation at expert level to discuss the most acute and topical matters of both bilateral and multilateral agendas. We managed to resolve a number of issues, agree on exchange of information on others and receive certain clarifications on EU’s plans and approaches. I believe that this work has contributed a lot to the fact that over the last two years Russia and the EU did not initiate a single new dispute against each other in the WTO.
Can we consider these efforts sufficient? Not, in my view. Irregular meetings and virtual absence of high-level trade policy contacts certainly remain constraining factors. I believe that the situation should be rectified to make Russia-EU trade policy dialogue systemic and institutionalised reflecting new conditions. It is important to fill it not only with problematic issues but also with a positive agenda that could increase mutual interest and economic return.
Russia and the EU have quite similar approaches to a number of issues of principle discussed at multilateral fora. In particular, we share the EU opinion that on the need for WTO reform, so that it better meets today’s realities – provided that interests of all members of the organisation are taken into account. For now, however, Brussels regretfully prefers to rely primarily on a restricted circle of the “like-minded” – probably supposing that all the others will have to “adopt” in some way or another. We believe that if the EU is genuinely eager to exercise leadership on multilateral trade policy track it should expand the geography and intensity of its contacts and listen to ideas and approaches of other participants. We, on our part, are always ready to support reasonable initiatives of Brussels.
We appreciate certain positive changes today in EU’s perception of the Eurasian integration process. We can only welcome such shifts. EU experts seem to increasingly realise that the common market of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan providing for free movement of goods, services, capital and labour does exist and is evolving. We remain convinced that establishing regular contacts between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the European Commission is quite important for the future of trade and economic relations, including bilateral Russia-EU ones, taking into account that a number of competencies have been transferred to the EAEU. And as for the hardly concealed jealousy for the links promoted by the EAEU with third countries – recently with Singapore, and just today with Serbia – we understand it, as it is only human to feel this way in a situation when one integration union is shrinking, and the other one is enlarging. I am sure, by the way, that EU candidate countries whose accession was recently put on the “Brussels backburner” once again, could meet better understanding in the EAEU.
So, prospects and horizons are clear, all the “recipes” required are in our hands, it is, as always, a question of political will. We do have it, I would stress with full responsibility. As Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “Greater Eurasia is not an abstract geopolitical scheme, but without any exaggeration, a future-oriented civilisational project” that will change political and economic landscape of the continent, bring peace, stability, prosperity and new living standards to Eurasia. Combining such initiatives as the Greater Eurasian Partnership and the Common Economic Space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, the Chinese “Belt and Road” project and the EU Connectivity Strategy – given the right approach with no confrontation, violent clash of interests or policy of containment – will benefit each and everyone.