"EU and Russia: what is the new reality?": statement by Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov

Submitted on Thu, 10/06/2016 - 17:11

Statement by Permanent Representative of Russia to the EU Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov at the conference “EU and Russia: what is the new reality?”. Brussels, 6 October 2016.

Let me start by stating something that may sound as a paradox to many of you, but is still a true reflection of reality. For all the difference of views Russia and the EU might have – or ascribed – these days, we basically share two conclusions.

One, that our relationship is at an unacceptable low point, producing a negative long-term impact on the carefully woven fabric of Russia-EU partnership. Moreover, the longer this unnatural situation drags on, the more difficult it will be to dismantle the ever-hardening obstacles on the road of normalisation.

There is, however, a second conclusion that we agree on. Namely, neither side wants a simplistic return to “business as usual”. Today’s crisis – and I would not mince my words describing  the current state of play as such – may actually provide, in line with ancient Chinese philosophy, an opportunity. An opportunity to reassess together the substance of our relationship and chart the way ahead.

The moment could not be more sensitive. Implications of current events in Europe and beyond are much wider than the scope of bilateral relations between Russia and the EU.

Some of you will probably refer at this point to the crisis in Ukraine. Indeed, recent dramatic events in that country, including the coup d’etat of February 2014 and its bloody repercussions tantamount to a full-fledged civil war, have contributed a lot to the worsening of the overall political, economic and even military situation in Europe.

Having said that, I need to stress, however, that the Ukrainian crisis has served as a catalyst, rather than a primary reason for the downturn. In a way it highlighted the already existing tensions – some quite obvious, others less apparent – leading to new dividing lines of variable visibility cutting across our continent.

What we are facing today is nothing less than an existential crisis of the European security architecture. There is not much left of the hard-won system of arms control. Trampled afoot are key provisions of OSCE consensus documents, including indivisibility of security, non-intervention into internal affairs of sovereign states, the right to self-determination and the obligation to cooperate in good faith. This crisis by far exceeds the confines of the Russia-EU dialogue. Nevertheless, for obvious reasons of economy, trade, human contacts and security our relationship matters. It may, hopefully, become one day a centerpiece of a new, more inclusive Europe.

The paradox of the current situation is that both sides, to use a popular idiom, are “all dressed up with no place to go”. Many factors point towards the EU and Russia being ready to qualitatively reassess our relationship in a more positive light. This, after all, is hopefully the objective of the upcoming “strategic review” at the October European Council. Yet the Ukrainian conundrum stands firmly in the way. It has now become self-apparent even to die-hard Ukraine fans that Kiev for a variety of internal and external reasons is consciously flouting the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Yet, by explicitly linking the relationship to matters outside of its or Russia’s full control, the European Union has voluntarily tied its hands. To make matters worse, even breakthrough ideas, like reversing the polarisation between the European and Eurasian centres of regional integration, have been artificially hamstrung by the resolution of the conflict in Ukraine. To those of us who remember other EU-manufactured linkages, like the 2010 Meseberg initiative, the story and its finale sound eerily familiar.

Some would argue that the “five principles”, extolled by the EU back in March, provide a roadmap towards normalisation of relations. We beg to differ. The points of contention in this document significantly outnumber avenues for cooperation. Deterrence eclipses dialogue. Dubious instruments like the stigmatisation and defamation of persons and censorship of media sources for their supposedly pro-Russian views are legitimised and locked into EU official policies. This is poisoning the already impoverished fertile soil in bilateral relations.

We had pinned some hopes on the so-called stock-taking exercise launched last year by common agreement. The objective was to define coinciding interests and unblock promising formats of cooperation. This was actually in line with the EU’s own “selective engagement” principle. Russia has done its part of the work. In our view, there is mutual merit in restoring full-fledged regular cooperation on issues of trade, customs regulation and transport, veterinary and phytosanitary measures, energy and climate change, just to name a few. Yet on the EU side even this rather limited scoping exercise seems to have become mired in red tape.

This leads us to the question of “what comes next?”. In our view, it is up to the EU to provide an answer, since it was the EU that embarked on the road towards so-called sanctions and cut-off of systemic cooperation. As for Russia, we set no preconditions for such cooperation. Our goal is to gradually work towards a new model of relations, built on a more sober, pragmatic and equal basis.

What we should not allow in the meantime, however, is an “outlast” mentality, in which we delude ourselves into thinking that time is working in our favour. I am referring to popular narratives that the other side is on a waning path economically, demographically or politically, and for this reason its interests and concerns, however legitimate, can be disregarded. For one thing, the claim could be made by either side. Furthermore, this narrative hardly signifies workable strategy, rather intellectual vanity and idleness. Finally, we should not forget that every year that Russia and the EU continue to drift further apart is a year that our countries collectively lose out to emerging centres of power in the East.

Hopefully, today’s brainstorming session will yield a much more productive future-oriented vision that the Russia-EU relationship definitely deserves.