Remarks by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the EU Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov at a working session of the "Ad Hoc Council". Brussels, 28 March 2017
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Only last Saturday we all witnessed celebrations of the EU’s 60th anniversary in Rome, crowned by the symbolic absence of one of the 28 member state, an equally symbolic Declaration of less than a page and a half and several statements, including some quite controversial.
But 2017 also marks the 20th anniversary of the entry into force, in 1997, of the Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which remains the legal bedrock of our relationship. That year the cumulative trade turnover between our countries was little less than 55 bln US dollars (there were no Euros then). Since then it skyrocketed, reaching a record 326 bln Euros in 2013 – almost a billion a day. This process was mutually beneficial. It created steady economic growth, commercial profits and jobs for both sides. But, even more importantly, it brought our countries and societies closer together, proliferating people-to-people contacts, fostering mutual awareness and enabling a dynamic of accelerating cultural convergence.
In today's complex global environment we need to cooperate more than ever. The pressing threat of international terrorism as well as other trans-border challenges, low-grade economic growth and climate change, not to mention European security, are just some of the reasons for doing so. Russia and the EU are the biggest neighbours in this part of Eurasia. And let’s not forget, there is a big rapidly changing world around us, with dynamic economies and evolving societies belonging to different cultures and civilizations.
Against this background the situation we face today with in Russia-EU relations is certainly abnormal and in many ways bizarre. The EU continues to artificially link the future of the relationship to the implementation of the Minsk agreements on settling the Ukrainian conflict, to which Russia is neither formally nor de-facto a party. These agreements, now in their third year, are being held up explicitly by the Kiev government. Ukrainian officials are stating quite openly, on the record, that they have no intention of implementing their political commitments. The realization is dawning within the EU, as we have pointed out on many occasions, that Ukraine's problems are generally of internal genesis, coming down to decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and as of late hard-line nationalist and anti-Russian policies and rhetoric. EU policy of so-called “sanctions” has expressly failed. Russia's economy, contrary to expectations, has increased its resilience and looks set for growth, albeit at slow rates, in the coming years.
Likewise, legitimate Russian military action in Syria, despite criticism from some EU quarters, has yielded positive results. For the first time in years the situation on the ground looks increasingly stable. Refugee flows are down. The talks in Astana have created conditions for working towards a durable ceasefire and the resumption of the Syrian reconciliation process. The onus now is on Geneva where UN-led negotiations are continuing in spite of numerous difficulties.
Yet, having run out of arguments, proponents of further confrontation with Russia inside and outside of the EU are not giving up. Russia now stands accused of waging invisible “hybrid” warfare against the West. According to the narrative, fanned by mainstream media, Russia stands behind “Brexit”, the Dutch referendum, US elections, the 2015 migration wave, even attacks against women in Germany. This would presuppose Russian omnipotence and irrational evil designs on a scale far beyond even the fantasies of Joseph McCarthy and his Cold-war acolytes.
Let me be clear. The reason why this alleged Russian warfare remains invisible is quite simple – it does not exist. Russia has no interest in fomenting instability in the European Union, our biggest trade and investment partner by far. The foreign policy concept of the Russian Federation, adopted as recently as November 2016, is clear on this point. It reads: “the Russian Federation is interested in constructive, stable and predictable cooperation with EU countries based on the principles of equality and respect for each other’s interests... Our strategic priority in relations with the EU is to establish a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific by harmonizing and aligning interests of European and Eurasian integration processes”.
Sadly, the ill-conceived actions by the EU have had a disrupting effect on the fabric of our relationship. Dividing lines in Europe, which we had worked hard to bring down, appear to be back with a vengeance. Take, for instance, the negotiations on modernisation of the Visa Facilitation Agreement, which the EU in its infinite wisdom has kept frozen since spring 2014. The draft modernised agreement provided for extending simplified visa procedures to additional categories of visitors. In particular, entrepreneurs and representatives of business associations regularly travelling to the Russian Federation were included among those entitled to multiple visas for 2-5 years without any additional conditions. However, Brussels chose to make Russian and EU citizens co-hostages to the internal Ukrainian conflict, refusing them the right to a mutually simplified travel regime.
The most blatant example of a politicised approach to travel issues is, however, the non-recognition of Russian travel passports issued to residents of Crimea and Sevastopol. The European Commission and the EEAS have even elaborated special guidelines to this effect. This is an obvious attempt to punish people for the free expression of their will in addition to the on-going inhumane economic blockade imposed against the peninsula.
Let me mention a more promising dossier, counter-terrorism. I assume there is no need to explain to the audience how profoundly the terrorist threat and instability affect economic activities. In the spring of 2014 the EU chose to discontinue regular contacts with Russian experts on counter-terrorism. Negotiations on a number of nearly finalised arrangements with the Europol and the Eurojust on information exchange were frozen.
Since then the EU has learned the hard way that sitting out the terrorist threat is not a valid option. Terrorists recognize no national borders. In the aftermath of the Brussels attacks of 22 March 2016 Russia and the EU have thankfully resumed counter-terrorism consultations. Another round was held on 8 February this year in Moscow. We expect this important headway to enable us to amplify political dialogue in other areas.
Finally, let me mention energy. In this field a number of reasonable decisions have been taken by the European Commission recently.
First, the Commission has cleared the remaining roadblocks towards building the two new blocks of the Paks nuclear power plant in Hungary.
Second, in October 2016 the Russian gas-company Gazprom was awarded the right to use more than 50 per cent of the OPAL pipeline.
Third, Gazprom’s commitments as a response to the anti-trust investigation were preliminarily approved and published for a “market test” running until May.
In addition, in March 2017 the German regulator Bundesnetzagentur officially replied to the European Commission regarding the regulatory regime for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. According to the German Government – and the regulator itself as well as the Legal Service of the European Commission seem to share this view – offshore pipelines from third countries to the EU are not subject to the provisions of the Third Energy package, including rules for unbundling.
These shifts, though incremental, are an encouraging sign. They bear witness to the growing dissatisfaction inside the EU with the state of affairs in the relationship with its biggest Eastern neighbour. Yet, unfortunately, the need for consensus on far-reaching political decisions continues to prevent the EU from going much further. The «Russian issue», as we know, has become sensitive and polarizing for EU Member-States. Today, when the EU seems to value its fragile unity more than anything else, this does not bode well. Paradoxically, the EU's internal contradictions and fragility represent an obstacle towards normalization of bilateral cooperation.
Our ambitions in relations with the EU are clear. We want to see the European Union a strong, dynamic, forward-looking strategic partner, independent in its actions and decision-making. We are in favour of resuming dialogue at all levels, including summits, and reconstructing the relationship on the basis of equality and mutual pragmatic interest.
Having said this, we do not envisage a simple return to “business as usual”. Actually, we have already reached an understanding in principle with our EU partners to undertake a joint stock-taking exercise in order to assess what steps both sides see as urgent and essential for pushing our cooperation forward, what may need to be left for future occasions, and what might be considered superficial. The Russian side has completed its homework, and now we will be waiting, with all the patience it may require, for the EU to collect a critical mass of political will to pull itself out of the corner where it had driven itself by its ill-devised Russia policy. As soon as that happens, the EU will know where to find us.
For centuries Russia and other European nations have reaped the benefits of common geography, civilizational proximity and close economic interdependence. We must not waste any opportunities in restoring that normality. The business community with its considerable influence on policymakers across Europe plays a special role in this regard.