Remarks by Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov, Permanent Representative of Russia to the EU at the 20th Round Table “Europe: Shaken and Stirred” (panel “Security Challenges for Europe: What are the next steps?”). Athens, 23 June 2016
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Were the ancient Greek Gods with us today, then Deimos, the God of terror, as well as his no lesser known brother Phovos, the God of fear, would surely both take pride at some of the feats of Western fear-mongering about Russia. Over the past weeks we have heard officials on both sides of the Atlantic seriously talking about Russia’s “nuclear sabre-rattling” (US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter, 10 May), “assertive and aggressive” behaviour (NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, 6 June) and ostensibly gloating over a possible “Brexit” (UK Prime Minister David Cameron, 17 May). As for the former NATO Deputy Supreme Commander General Sir Richard Shirreff, he envisaged, what he called, an “entirely plausible” wartime scenario in 2017, centered of course on a Russian invasion of the Baltics.
Sadly, these wild stories are likely be replayed at the coming NATO summit in Warsaw to give fresh breath to the outdated raison d’etre of the Alliance. NATO planners are busy upgrading military capabilities in the vicinity of our borders in de facto breach of the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act and the subsequent 2002 Rome declaration. US missile defence stations capable of intercepting Russian ballistic systems are being stationed in Eastern Europe – I am sure nobody in his or her clear mind would today believe fairy tales about those installations, being where they are, to be designed to protect the US and its allies from imaginary Iranian or North Korean nuclear threat. US military spending in Europe is set to quadruple next year. And the Baltic region – once the most tranquil spot in Europe in military terms – is on its way to becoming a weaponised NATO bridgehead. In this context let me mention, alluding to one of the previous speakers, that in the light of its current policies the US hardly qualifies as “a force for stability” in Europe. Rather, the opposite is true.
Our opponents within the EU and NATO know very well that Russia poses no military danger to their countries. For this reason they have resorted to speculations about a supposedly invisible “hybrid challenge” from the East, which in other circumstances might have even been amusing. The Greeks, by the way, should know far more about “hybrid warfare” than the rest of us – it was, after all, the cunning Odysseus who invented the Trojan horse.
In reality there are no longer any ideological barricades between Russia and the other European countries, which could set the stage for a new “Cold War”.
All our countries are preoccupied with building modern secular societies based on popular representation and socially-oriented market economies. Not only our strategic goals are the same, but so are the underlying civilizational bonds of culture, language and faith.
Ahead of his recent visit to Greece President Putin in a commentary for the “Kathimerini” newspaper cited the story of Ioannis Kapodistrias – the famous Greek patriot who, after an impressive career within the Russian diplomatic service that culminated in serving as Foreign Minister of Russia, in 1827 became the first head of state of independent Greece – only to bе assassinated later by those trying to prevent our two countries drawing closer together. This is but one powerful example of how Russia has for centuries strived to build and let itself be guided by positive interdependence with other European nations.
Yet, looking from Moscow (and from Brussels, where I have been working for over a decade now, with the benefit of a stereoscopic view, you could say), there is indeed a pervasive feeling of systemic deadlock across our shared European continent. The European security architecture is in severe crisis, of which the events in Ukraine were, obviously, not the main cause. Rather, in our view, the coup d’etat and the subsequent civil war in Ukraine became a catalyst for disruptive trends that had started with the eastward expansion of Euro-Atlantic structures in the 1990s.
I will not dwell on well-known Russian grievances, aptly summarized by President Putin back in his 2007 Munich speech. Suffice to say that, in our view, a historic chance of constructing a “greater Europe” from Lisbon to Vladivostok, based on the notions of equality and inclusivity, was missed. Many in Russia, especially in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, felt that a NATO- and EU-centric European security architecture was being shaped without my country, at its expense and, as of late, with blatant disregard for its vital national interests.
The hazards of such an endeavor have today come into clear focus, especially within the EU. A Europe without Russia, it seems, lacks internal balance, either economically, politically or culturally. Centralized Brussels-based decision-making is raising credible doubts about democratic foundations of the European project. The rise of popular anti-establishment forces is challenging the political status-quo in many EU Member States. Misguided attempts at “exporting democracy” have contributed to fundamental destabilization of our common neighbourhood, particularly in the South (the widely-acclaimed “Arab Spring” became a very short-lived season indeed, only to be followed by a protracted autumn – or is it winter already?). And our inability to jointly stand up to the challenges of terrorism, regional conflicts and mass migration have left Europe weakened. As one of the countries severely afflicted by both the Euro crisis and the influx of migrants Greece knows this only too well.
In short, the forces of fragmentation are gaining traction.
I am not exaggerating the role that healthy relations with Russia could have played in mitigating the consequences of mostly internal EU problems. Nevertheless, by adopting, not without insistence of a third party (through arms-twisting, as admitted by one prominent personality), so-called sanctions and restricting dialogue with Russia, the EU has managed to shoot itself in the foot. It has not helped things that the EU has artificially linked its sanctions policies to the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which is being held up by Ukraine.
For some within the EU sustaining a confrontational EU policy with regard to Russia has become an end in itself. When a show of solidarity over an obviously controversial issue becomes an object of pride there is something perverse about it. Strangely enough, no such solidarity apparently exists within the EU with regard to one of its own member states, namely Cyprus, a part of which has been under foreign military occupation for over four decades.
Some European leaders today suggest that confrontational zero-sum policies towards Russia can go amicably hand-in-hand with “selective engagement”. This paradigm has even become official EU policy with the adoption last March of the so-called EU “five principles”. In my view, the principle of selective engagement can only work if the selection process becomes a joint effort – something we have been proposing to our Brussels colleagues. On the other hand, referring to Russia obliquely as a “challenge”, as the EU is reportedly planning to do in its nascent Global Strategy, would be yet another step in the wrong direction.
We need to decide whether we are partners or not. The rest will surely follow.
In this regard the recent visit of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to St.Petersburg was a reassuring sign of importance attached by the EU to restoring a normal pattern of Russia-EU dialogue, including at the level of our political leaders. As he rightly pointed out in a public speech in Brussels last November, “there is no security architecture in Europe without an enhanced participation of Russia”.
My country is ready to wait until the rest of the EU overcomes the media-induced mass hysteria regarding the phantom “Russian threat”. We are natural-born optimists who believe in the superiority of rationalism and common sense. One of our strong points, I believe, is patience.
Nevertheless, it is clear that a return to “business as usual” – the kind of business I just described – is not an option. On this, at least, we agree with our EU partners. The era of hollow slogans belongs to the past. So does the notion of the EU as a source of ostensibly superior norms and values with a divine mission of projecting them beyond its borders.
What will count in the future is the ability and willingness of our Western partners to ensure fair treatment of Russia’s interests. Such interaction must be comprehensive, pragmatic and equitable. Moreover, it should be rooted in realism. It is not too difficult to think of the defining litmus test for the post-crisis European security architecture. It is whether or not our Western partners will come to terms with the multipolarity of the new global order, with Russia and its Eurasian partners as one of its major centres.
As for the countries of our “common neighbourhood”, rather than being fashioned into a divisive geopolitical cordon sanitaire, they should be treated as bridges spanning the various parts of our continent, albeit diverse, but one that we and future generations of our nations are entrusted by historic fate to share.
Turning back to the rich history of this hospitable land, the two notorious brothers whom I mentioned in the beginning, also had a sister, whose contribution to European politics would have been much more welcome. Her name, may I remind you, was Harmony.