Russia-EU: Time to Decide

Submitted on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 01:00

Article by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, “Russia-EU: Time to Decide” published in the Kommersant newspaper of 13 February 2014

2014 is full of historic symbolism. We will celebrate 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, 75 years since the beginning of the Second World War and 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. You might think that having experienced the severest trials during the last century and having learnt a lot from its tragic mistakes, today’s European continent would be an example of political wisdom for other regions, as they attempt to get out of the vortex of conflicts and settle down to a course of development and welfare. We have laid the foundations for that – the inexorable ideological confrontation, which separated Europe in the XX century, is in the past now, and principles of democracy and market economics have become generally acceptable in the entire Atlantic Europe.

However, we have been observing a trend of escalation of polemics lately. Western mass media are deploying an anti-Russian information campaign using phraseology of “cold war” times. We were able to hear the echo of such considerations at the OSCE ministerial meeting in December 2013, and at the anniversary session of the Munich Security Conference. I think it is time to look into what is really happening.

The situation in Ukraine is the focus of disputes in the European media space. The issue of conclusion of the Eastern Partnership Association Agreement with Kiev, which was prepared within the framework of the EU Eastern Partnership programme, has become a bone of contention. The decision to postpone its signature made by the Ukrainian authorities after an analysis of the economic consequences of implementation of this agreement aroused a wave of negative emotions from the EU and has become a cause for internal confrontation in Ukraine.

The authors of the Eastern Partnership initially assured us that this project has no confrontational component and is aimed at helping the countries on the eastern flange of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the so-called “focus states”, to solve the tasks of development and modernisation without casting doubt on their traditional historical ties with other neighbours, including Russia. We were even told that it would be desirable to implement trilateral projects with the participation of the European Union, Russia and the “focus state”. To be honest, these ideas were not particularised.

However, they soon started to bring this question up with our joint neighbours with the European Union: you should decide who you are with – Europe or Russia. If you accept the European choice – then you must fulfil all the orders of Brussels, even if they do not comply with existing obligations, including within the framework of the CIS. Such an approach is contrary to the logic of the actions aimed at erasing dividing lines in Europe, which is formalised in OSCE documents; it looks like another round of attempts to move these lines to the East.

Of course, Russia could not be happy with such a position. Nevertheless, we have always clearly and consistently believed that the choice of the spectrum of its development, the resolution of the question about being part of these or those integration structures, is a sovereign right of every state. We have never attempted to impose something on anybody. We understand that integration can be strong only when it is based on mutual interests. This has been and is our position in respect of Ukraine and we have just explained to our Ukrainian friends that any change of the economic rules of the game by them, would cause a strictly adequate reaction by Russia in full compliance with international standards, including WTO provisions.

We expected that our European partners would demonstrate the same respect for the freedom of choice of the Ukrainian people. We were unhappily surprised, when it turned out that in the opinion of the EU’s and the United States’ representatives the “free” choice has already been made for the Ukrainians and it means “European future”. At the same time, the considerations that Ukraine should repeat the path taken by Poland and other countries of Eastern Europe, seem to be incorrect: nobody is offering Kiev any real prospects to accede to the European Union, it is a question of unilateral adoption of the rules dictated by Brussels, including the full removal of barriers for the EU’s trade expansion.

I repeat: Ukrainians should decide to adopt or not to adopt such a proposition. It is clear that some parts of society may disagree with the position of the country’s society and may say so openly and strive to change it. However, they should do this according to the constitution, according to the law.

The situation, when the process of democratic will is replaced by “street democracy”, when the opinion of several thousands of protesters attempting to influence authorities by force is claimed to be “vox populi”, cannot be acceptable. Disorder, street violence in any capital city of the European Union is perceived in the way it deserves to be perceived – as a threat to social and democratic order. Russia has never attempted to doubt this position;it did not send its representatives to hand out cookies to outrageous demonstrators.

A sweeping situation in a state in the centre of the European continent can hardly be in anybody’s interests. We cannot fail to see that the actions of anti-government forces in Ukraine show traces of nationalist and extremist moods, the anti-Russian rhetoric of certain circles is aligned with anti-Semitic, racist appeals. It means that along with the government and opposition leaders supported by western states there are other forces, which are in fact not controlled by anybody and, it seems,who do not intend to stick to a civilised code of conduct. At the same time, the issue of integration priorities is pushed to the side-lines and is overshadowed by radical slogans having nothing to do with European culture. The attempts to turn a blind eye to this, aspiring to put the picture inthe template framework – “good” opposition against “bad” government – are short-sighted, the same as ignoring reality and underestimating one’s own problems, including those in the area of interethnic and interreligious relations. In this regard an Eastern wisdom comes to mind: people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

If we look at the history of the development of independent Ukraine, it becomes evident that any attempts to define the vector of orientation of the external ties of the country to the West or to the East have always failed. The activities of the President Viktor Yushchenko’s team evidently confirm this thought. In fact, the very “texture” of Ukrainian society does not allow it to clearly “swing” to one or the other side. Samuel P. Huntington wrote about this in his Clash of Civilizations twenty years ago warning that any aspirations to make this issue clearer would be the breaking factor of the internal ties in the Ukrainian state with potential severe consequences for the country.

With this in mind, the efforts to decide on the future of the Ukrainian state and the people in its government look absolutely hopelessfor its nationals. Such “social engineering” always produces rather sad results. It is sufficient to look at the consequences of external interference in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The latest example is related to the situation in South Sudan, the state, which was created mainly thanks to stubbornness of several influential international players. There is no reason to believe that the “export of revolutions” in Europe may turn into something positive.

My contemplations about the reasons which make some of our western partners so stubborn in letting themselves be guided by the “or-or” approach in the situation with Ukraine, attempt to include it intheir geopolitical space directly, shedding all vestiges of what it once was, which inevitably leads us to fundamental issues about relations between the European Union and Russia. It turns out that today’s lack of understanding is based on the lack of clarity about the long-term development goals of Russia-EU relations or, using Javier Solana’s expression, a deficit of strategic trust. Russia is for the prospective creation of a common economic and humanitarian space stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok, where free movement of people, free exchange of goods and services would be ensured. The respective initiative of President Vladimir Putin is formalised in the Russian Foreign Policy Concept. EU leaders pay lip-service to this approach. However, we are still far from making this intention decisive, when they routinely adopt decisions in Brussels.

It is evident that the transfer to a brand new, higher level of partnership may be reached only on the basis of equality, mutual respect and consideration of each other’s interests. At the same time, the European Union still tends to create ties with its neighbours exclusively on the basis of making these countries closer to EU standards and by taking its lead from the politics of Brussels. However, Russia’s goal is not to accede to the European Union, and therefore cooperation between thetwo largest players in the European space can only be equal. Our partners from the European Union must fully take into account that a large-scale integration project is being implemented in the Eurasian space, which was initially built up taking into account the opportunities for its harmonisation with integration processes within the EU, as a link between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Of course, the task of qualitative rapprochement between the EU and the forming Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) cannot be solved in a flash. However, we are convinced that there is a very real and achievable goal in this direction, because both integration models are built on similar principles and WTO standards. Therefore, during the recent EU-Russia summit in Brussels the President Vladimir Putin proposed studying the opportunity of forming a free trade zone between the European Union and the EAEU by 2020. We welcome the agreement to conduct an expert depoliticised analysis of integration processes in the EU and Eurasia.

The partnership potential between Russia and the European Union is tremendous. Almost 650 million people live in our countries in a territory covering 21 million We share complementarity and interdependency of economies and common cultural roots. Russia satisfies one third of the EU’s oil and natural gas needs, almost one fourth of its needs for coal and petroleum products. There is no other partner like this, who would be able to ensure stable supplies in the necessary amounts. If we united our technological resourcesand human potential, this would give a strong impulse to the development of Russia and the EU, and significantly reinforce their positions in today’s highly competitive world.

The development of a common vision of the prospects of development of relations on this basis would undoubtedly allow us to resolve problem issues we are inevitably facing and will face in our bilateral interaction more successfully. Moreover, it is very important that such a joint approach to the future of our continent would help states located between Russia and the EU develop their interaction with their western and eastern neighbours in a more comfortable way, without conflicts. Of course, the creation of the Common Economic Space stretching from the western borders of Europe to the Russian Far East envisages the participation of our eastern CIS partners in this work.

Stereotypes of the past epoch prevent others in the European Union approaching the issue on the future of relations with Russia in the XXI century on a large scale. At the same time, it is important to understand that the Russian-German peace was no less important a phenomenon for Europe, including in terms of its influence on the development of the situation in the continent, than the creation of the French-German tandem. And the exit to new strategic horizons of cooperation between Russia and the EU might become what you might call a factor changing the rules of the game for our joint interests.

However, it is evident that we keep hitting against the lack of clear long-term landmarks in the resolution of specific problems related to the development of events in our continent. It seems that our western partners frequently act reflexively, guided by a simple “friend-or-foe” principle, without thinking about the long-term consequences of their steps. I think that, in any case, primitive “tug-of-war” between the European Union and Russia cannot match the reality of international relations, which become more and more complicated; it is unworthy of the tremendous political and diplomatic experience, which has been accumulated for ages by European powers.

We have been hearing considerations lately, including in the context of the European situation, that it is not the time to set large-scale tasks in Russia-EU relations. They even say that the implementation of plans to create a free trade zone between the EU and the United States, within the framework of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, makes the implementation of large modernisation projects with Russia less topical. Of course, everyone must decide for themselves. However, the deepening of interaction between western states can hardly supersede the need for active development of ties with other partners. The creation of detached oases of welfare can hardly be achieved in the modern global, interdependent world: here I mean military, political and economic issues as well. All the more so if we remember that today’s Europe is not a centre of global economics and politics anymore and it should take into account the rise of other centres of power and influence.

The point of view that true partnership with Russia is, in fact, a mandatory condition to overcome crisis manifestations, ensure economic development and reinforce the political influence of the European Union, is shared by many EU politicians and experts. To that end, I would like to refer to the opinion mentioned in the report by the Committee for European Affairs of the French Senate of December 2013: “The priority is to establish strategic partnerships oriented to the development of economic cooperation. The participants would thus confirm their interdependency. The European Union must become the key player in the modernisation of Russian industry and the implementation of projects to modernise Russia’s eastern territories”.

European history confirms, with evidence, that peace and stability in the continent was ensured in periods when Russia actively participated in European affairs, while attempts to isolate our country have always led to the activation of processes leading to sleepwalking into the disasters of world wars.

The philosophy of joint work is the foundation of Russia’s foreign policy doctrine. Any weakening of cooperation and growth of detachment cannot help us fight common challenges. Unfortunately, thenumbers are not shrinking. I mean, in particular, foci of extremism arising here and there, terrorist activities, waves of illegal migration, the growing threat of intersectarian, intercivilisational splits because of friction.

There is no doubt that an awareness of the importance of further rapprochement between Russia and the EU, would contribute to the resolution of old problems in the security area. In conditions when military confrontations in the European continent have become unimaginable, the implementation principles of equal and undivided security in Atlantic Europe must naturally reflect the geopolitical landscape, which has completely changed in the last decades, evidence of the final overcoming of the distortion of the historic space which split Europe into West and East. It is time to turn the decisions adopted in the OSCE and the NATO-Russia Council on the formation of a common space of peace, security and stability in the European Atlantic region into specific actions. Only in this way can we guarantee that a chain of short-sighted, irresponsible actions does not provoke a crisis “swirl” in European politics, like in August 2008.

I cannot disagree that common values should be used as cement when constructing a common European home. However, we need to agree what they are like and who determines them. We believe that value landmarks should be a product of mutual consent rather than an invention of any one state or group of states. The set of basic values, on which common European cooperation could be based, is indicated in UN, OSCE and Council of Europe documents. Of course, society is a living body and ideas about values can change in the course of its growth. Many approaches used today in the European Union were perceived as unacceptable in the same countries only 20-30 years ago. I mean, in particular, moral relativism, propagation of all-permissiveness and hedonism, reinforcement of volitions of militant atheism, refusal of traditional values, which have been a basis of human development for many centuries. Such ideas are promoted with the insistence of a messiah both inside countries and in relations with neighbours.For this reason, I would like to recall that the principles of democracy primarily envisage respect for others’ opinion. We all need to acknowledge that European people, when they agree on basic values, including respect for the democratic basis of organisation of public life, human rights and fundamental liberties, at the same time should give each other the right to be different, to keep their own cultural identity in full compliance with universal conventions and declarations in the human rights area.

We can say that relations between Russia and the European Union have reached the moment of truth. To build our cooperation consistently and purposefully, we have to understand whether we seriously want to achieve ambitious goals of true strategic partnership. Otherwise, we will keep stumbling over the lack of clear landmarks. Information wars will not help here, while true leadership and political wisdom are in demand.