Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov's remarks at the 14th Cyprus Summit of The Economist Group

Submitted on Tue, 11/06/2018 - 17:39

Remarks by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov at the 14th Cyprus Summit of The Economist Group (Nicosia, 2 November 2018)

Reconciliating Nord and South. Populism, protectionism, geopolitical tension: how serious is the threat for Europe?


Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank the organisers, both the Economist Group and the Government of Cyprus, for this opportunity to address yet another conference devoted to topical aspects of European and regional security and cooperation.

The title of this particular session, though, sounds a bit confusing, I must admit. Important as they are, the three elements described as a threat are not the primary source of today’s instability engulfing Europe and adjoining regions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. They are rather consequences of controversial effects of globalisation and efforts by some to fend off the advancing multipolarisation of the world – or at least to bend this objective process to suit their interests in making themselves “great again”.

Indeed, Europe today presents a mixed picture in terms of stability and attractiveness for other continents. The European Union, not long ago portrayed as “a shining temple on top of the hill”, is in the midst of a painful process of divorce with one of its members, or, putting it more bluntly, is about to shrink, rather than enlarge. Coping in the meantime with a wave of newcomers whose arrival has brought rifts among its members and continues to change the face of Europe in every sense.

NATO, on the other hand, after several years of proclaimed efforts towards transformation and defining a new role for itself in a changing world is now “back to square one”, enjoying a return to its original posture – only to find out that the price tag has become much more expensive and nuclear demons can be awaken with a stroke of a pen.

The latest announcement by the US Administration of its planned withdrawal from the 1987 INF Treaty, following the pattern of similar moves by its predecessors, diminishes the scope of what for decades constituted a major pillar of global peace, namely arms control. Europe, the main beneficiary of the abolition of a whole class of medium- and shorter-range nuclear missiles, is bound to revert to nightmares that haunted it more than three decades ago. Unless, of course, it takes a decisive stance on the issue.

On a regional level, the Western Balkans, having lived through a series of bloody conflicts at the end of the last century and then struggling with post-conflict traumas are now viewed again as a testing ground for political engineering in line with imported templates.

Actually, the Western Balkans is not an isolated case in that sense. One doesn’t need to look far. For all the complexities of problems facing this beautiful island of Cyprus (and believe me, I know what I am talking about), many, if not most, hardships that befell Cypriots at various stages of modern history had their origins well beyond the shores of the island.

Looking down South, any unbiased observer will see the detrimental effects of what was just a few years ago hailed by Western governments and media as a triumph of liberal democracy in the form of so-called “Arab Spring”. One may get an impression that the natural course of seasons has been broken, with “spring” giving way to late autumn at best. Well, hopefully we will know better after the high-level international meeting on Libya in 10 days’ time in Palermo.

Actually, the only country of the region that managed to resist the implications of forced democratisation, though at a huge price, was Syria. It goes without saying that one may not talk about stability in the Eastern Mediterranean until calm peaceful life has been established in Syria. The war in that country has been on for seven years. At a critical juncture in 2015, when ISIL/Daesh terrorists were within a half hour’s drive from Damascus, Russia undertook a military operation by its Air-Space forces at the request of the legitimate Syrian Government.  Today almost all Syrian territory has been liberated from jihadists, and we can talk about significant positive results, in both political and military terms.

Our position remains constant – the conflict in Syria, as well as other regional crises, has no military solution and can only be settled through a political process. Within the Astana framework Russia, Iran and Turkey continue cooperation in the interests of promoting such a political process driven and implemented by Syrians themselves in accordance with decisions taken by the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi and UNSC Resolution 2254. At this point the focus is on forming a Constitutional Committee which will indeed facilitate launching a political process that Syria, the Middle East and the whole international community need. This was aptly confirmed only last week at the quadripartite summit in Istanbul.

Meanwhile Russia is actively supporting post-conflict reconstruction in liberated areas of Syria. Unfortunately, we feel practically alone on this track – the European Union, for instance, renders financial and other assistance beyond purely humanitarian to Syrian neighbours only – Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Undoubtedly they do bear a heavy burden of accommodating large numbers of Syrian refugees. But unless social and economic infrastructure is re-established inside Syria and new projects are launched to create jobs for those coming back, refugees may never venture to return to their homes. Alas, the long-awaited shift to peaceful life remains hostage to politicised conditions and attitudes – the European Union does not consider it possible to help establishing normal life in those regions of the SAR that are controlled by the Syrian government, extends sanctions regime against Damascus making average citizens suffer the most. Let us hope that this situation will change, sooner rather than later.

Cyprus is an important partner of my country in the Eastern Mediterranean and on the European continent in general. Our peoples enjoy excellent and friendly relations based on historic and spiritual bonds. My personal feelings towards the island of Cyprus and Cypriots are paticularly warm as I have dedicated quite a few years of my professional life to the development of Russia-Cyprus relations.

Our Cypriot friends know that for many years we have been consistently supporting efforts aimed at re-uniting the island. I can confirm my country is committed to a comprehensive, viable and fair solution of the Cyprus problem in the interest of both Cypriot communities to be based on relevant UNSC Resolutions and high-level agreements between the two communities. The UN under whose auspices the negotiations are held must be at the heart of international efforts on achieving the settlement. The 5 Permanent Members of the Security Council bearing special responsibility for maintaining international peace and security must play an active role in search of a settlement and be able to guarantee the outcome. We also support the continued presence of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) which is charged with important stabilising functions on the island.

Russia and the Republic of Cyprus fully share the willingness to normalise the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, to settle conflicts that still persist in the Middle East and to establish conditions necessary to intensify mutually beneficial trade and economic cooperation in this region.

Cooperation in the energy sector, developing calmly and in a depoliticised manner, should be a crucial factor of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia has been a reliable partner of many European countries in this field for half a century. Now, the latest estimates show that Gazprom will sell a record volume of natural gas to Europe in 2018 exceeding 200 billion cubic metres. Our country does not only diversify the structure of gas deliveries to Europe via pipelines (Nord Stream-2 and potentially TurkStream projects), but is also active in increasing capacities for LNG export (Yamal, Arctic and Baltic projects).

We proceed from the fact that energy capacities available in the Eastern Mediterranean will enable mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and countries of the region in the interests of all its participants. Rosneft implements a project to develop Zohr gasfield in Egypt together with Eni and BP. In early 2018 a consortium of Novatek, Total and Eni reached an agreement with Lebanon on exploring hydrocarbons on its offshore fields. I am sure Russian companies would be interested to look into options of cooperation with Cyprus in developing its own offshore deposits.

The Eastern Mediterranean as a whole is very likely to become one of the key regions in providing energy to countries of Southern and South-Eastern Europe in the future. We proceed from the fact that, taking into account high demand for gas in the region, the Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) gas pipeline and other projects can complement each other.

However, the current abnormal state of Russia-European Union relations overshadows these wishes and bright dreams. We are not the only ones dissatisfied with it. Neither are Cypriots and we appreciate Nicosia’s stance on the need to normalise this situation.

I will take the liberty to talk a bit about psychoanalysis – it is often in high demand in the work of a diplomat. Both our European partners and we have compiled a long list of historic offences, reciprocal claims and negative stereotypes. For instance, after the collapse of the Soviet Union a romantic understanding of how excellent our future relations could become prevailed both in Moscow and European capitals. But reality has turned out somewhat tougher.

Why so? One of the main problems, in my view, rests in the fact that traditional EU strategy always provided for geographical expansion of its standards, rules and norms on other participants of the international system without adapting them to particular aspects of these other participants. The European Union could not imagine an equal dialogue with Moscow even at the best of times, during the Russia-EU “honeymoon”, and Brussels does not seem to be ready to such a dialogue today. Recent years saw European capitals tending to talk about the need to strike a balance between positive (“selective engagement”) and negative (“deterrence” and sanctions) incentives in their line towards Russia.

At the same time, it has become clear to everybody that attempts to “isolate” Russia and “punish” it with sanctions have not worked. Moreover, we have learnt several important lessons from what was going on throughout the recent years and, first of all got rid of certain illusions regarding our Western partners. We came to realise that we should become more self-sufficient instead of relying on others. In the end, we have learnt how to convert challenges into incentives to our development in the fields of economy, science and, finally, defence.

What should we do next? First, we need to become fully conscious of the fact that a return to business as usual in Russia-EU relations is neither possible nor needed. And the European world that existed two or three decades ago is no longer here today. There were no conflict around Ukraine, eurozone and European values crises, migration flow, Brexit, surge in European right-wing populism. There were neither Transatlantic split, unprecedented economic growth in Asia, global protectionism offensive nor decline of international law.

By the way, I am particularly concerned by the latter. I think you will agree that currently we are witnessing an offensive by quite a belligerent revisionism on the modern system of international law. We see attacks on the basic principles of the Middle East settlement, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme, obligations within the World Trade Organisation, multilateral agreements on climate and many others.

Meanwhile our Western colleagues try to substitute the rule of law in international affairs with so-called “rules-based international order”. And these rules, as we have seen more than once, are invented pursuant to political reasons and constitute, more often than not, an example of double standards. Unfounded accusations of meddling in internal affairs of certain countries go hand in hand with pursuing an open course to undermine and overthrow democratically elected governments. They try to draw countries into military alliances built to meet their own needs and, at the same time, threaten to punish other states for their free choice of partners and allies.

Under such turbulent conditions it is not easy to build sensible and pragmatic relations even with one’s natural partners. But, being a born optimist, I would like to conclude in the following way. In today’s dynamic, highly competitive and quite dangerous world Russia and the European Union, objectively 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, utopian as it may seem today. Within this context there is a relevant topical issue of “integrating integrations” that may finally start with establishing systemic contacts between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

We shall consistently work on establishing a renewed and positive agenda, looking for areas of interaction based on, inter alia, interest in cooperation between business communities of Russia and the EU.

Recently many people in my country have been talking about “pivoting to the East”. Moreover, it is not a secret that in recent years our cooperation with Asian partners has been developing at a “space velocity”. We do share a common continent with both Europe and Asia. But there is no sense in talking about Russian “European choice” – it is not a choice, it is a destiny, and one does not choose one’s destiny, as a proverb goes.

It is paradoxical that while diving deeper into the Eurasian context Russia will have to pay more attention to preserving and strengthening its European nature. And the latter is not possible without cultural, educational, scientific and social cooperation with the European Union. The main thing is that such cooperation should be equal. The EU is probably not ready yet for this. Well, we, Russians, are well known for our strategic patience.