Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start with a question that I hear particularly often due to the nature of my professional activities. It goes as follows: how does Russia view the European Union, what do we expect and want from it?
Certainly, reflecting on the fate of the EU is primarily the prerogative of Europeans themselves – policymakers, the public, business and analytical circles. Needless to say, their ranks clearly lack unanimity. Moreover, pessimistic forecasts have recently gained ground. Some go as far as to write the EU off altogether, predicting that it will face a kind of apocalyptic shocks. These scenarios presume that the EU would disintegrate due to threats such as, for example, an eventual Polexit and loss of a unifying element in view of Angela Merkel's departure. And some even believe that this decadent symphony will be concluded by a takeover of the European Union by China (not Russia, I note – so far, so good). Well, in my view, these and similar alternatives do not reflect the reality, however ambiguous the current situation may be.
As far as Russia's own assessments and expectations are concerned, I would like to stress that, fundamentally, relations with the European Union have had a self-standing value for us throughout all their history. For many years – including the period currently regarded as "trouble-free" – we were accused of seeking to divide the EU, playing on contradictions that exist between Member States and European institutions, as well as among EU countries themselves. I would assume that had we had truly aspired to this, the situation today would have been different.
I would recall that my country's representatives, unlike certain EU officials, have never presented their partners and neighbours on the Eurasian continent with an artificial choice between sides, or urged them to decide whether they were with “the smart ones” or “the pretty ones”. We have proceeded and continue to proceed from the premise that every state has a sovereign right to develop multi-vector cooperation in the international arena, with due regard, of course, to international law.
Accusing Russia of generating all sorts of hybrid threats against the EU has clearly become a familiar and simple path for many politicians. Indeed, it is much easier to waste one’s breath voicing loud criticism than to finally get down to a substantive professional discussion of the issues of concern to one side or the other. Let me remind you that Brussels is remarkably consistent in its refusal to engage in dialogue with us on such burning topics as, for instance, cybersecurity and countering disinformation.
The obsessive willingness to shift responsibility for internal difficulties to an outside player speaks volumes. This is the easiest way to distract the target audience from real issues: it is no secret that Brussels bureaucracy is perceived rather critically by many in European business and public opinion.
Speaking of business circles, I cannot fail to mention that on 8 October Minister Sergey Lavrov had a traditional meeting with representatives of the Association of European Businesses in Russia, which was very constructive and confirmed the European business community's interest in promoting trade. I would note that it, as indeed any progress, requires, among other things, predictability, rather than chaotic imposition of unilateral restrictions that essentially sacrifice the economy for the sake of geopolitics and irrational Russophobia.
Coming back to the question I articulated earlier – "What does Russia want from the EU?" – I would formulate my answer the following way. First, “take a breath”. We do not intend to join the EU and tear it apart from within. Second, we do not intend to turn exclusively to the East and ignore this powerful integration alliance covering a part of the European continent. Third, we do not intend to engage in a power struggle with the EU.
Alas, today's bleak reality is that our relations with Brussels have become hostage to an internal conflict in a third country. Most of the formats of our interaction, effective in the past, today stand idle. And Russia did not close a single door. All the "freezes" were initiated by the EU.
In previous years, we were quite vocal contemplating a strategic partnership with the EU. Brussels also used this wording profusely. There even used to be a kind of competition among EU countries: on bilateral tracks we “fine-tuned” this partnership with additional epithets such as advanced, priority, or privileged. Well, sadly, this made little difference in substance. The principle "as you name the boat, so shall it float" has not worked here. But now, in theory at least, we have a chance to build a new, truly sustainable basis for relations with the EU. It is undoubtedly in great demand.
I sincerely hope we are past the period of clearly abnormal relations with the EU, “seven years of missed opportunities” as Sergey Lavrov called it. I would very much want it to be over. At the same time, it is important to stress that we are by no means aiming for an automatic return to the previous system of coordinates, to "business as usual". I believe that the essence of a new type of Russia – EU relations would be most accurately defined as pragmatic partnership. This approach implies, first and foremost, recognising and respecting each other's interests. By the way, it is true that certain EU states, including Italy, the host of our today's event, have been quite successful in that.
My vision of a future pragmatic partnership also includes joint search for common ground, which could be the starting point for normalising our relations. After all, we could use the concept of "selective engagement" coined a few years ago by Federica Mogherini. If her well-known five principles were limited to this appeal, it would certainly be much easier for us to talk. But, alas, EU policy has now degenerated into a "push back, constrain, engage" triad which I would by no means want to associate with the name of Josep Borrell. This is, of course, far from being a recipe for success in building any sort of constructive relationship that goes beyond ad hoc joint action.
Russia and the EU are complementary in many ways. This is true for our economic capacities, for scientific and technical interaction and, definitely, for people-to-people contacts. Russia's and the EU's soft powers are similarly related: I am convinced that they add to, rather than oppose each other.
But the main thing I would suggest to our colleagues (and I dare say, to our partners) is that it is time to stop perceiving Russia as an enemy. Our multipolar world faces enough real, not far-fetched, challenges and threats common to Russia and the EU, and combining our efforts would only benefit everyone.
I hate to express myself in banalities, but in this city you cannot avoid quotes coming to mind about "two households, both alike in dignity” and their pointless squabbles which, had there been a will and a bit of common sense, could have been easily avoided. While not calling to rewrite verses of the classic and without drawing any analogies, I would like to stress that mutual respect and predictability are the only key to lasting stability, including in international relations.
If, however, the way forward is guided by selfish motives, biased opinions and outdated stereotypes, as is happening now, the emerging system could slip back into bipolarity. And this scenario hardly foresees a winner. In such a case, everyone would lose in the long run.
The major challenge, therefore, not only for Russia and the EU, but also for mankind as a whole, is to build a fairer system of international relations that ensures sovereignty, equality, security without dividing lines and stable conditions for the development of all its participants. I hope that our European counterparts also come to realise the need to restore a full-fledged dialogue and jointly search for common denominators, including new ones.
Thank you for your attention.