Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko spoke at the 12th Northern Dimension Forum, held via videoconference on 8 April 2021. This forum has been one of the major annual events for cooperative policy carried out by Russia, the EU, Iceland and Norway since 2007.
The forum was organised by the Northern Dimension Business Council in cooperation with the Association of European Businesses, the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg State University and the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management.
This forum was devoted to the theme: “Connectivity now. Boosting flows of people, information, energy, goods and services.” It was attended by over 400 representatives of Russian and foreign business circles, government agencies and scientific, education and non-governmental organisations.
During the plenary meeting and the parallel sessions of the working groups of the forum, leading experts of the partnerships of the Northern Dimension, its Institute and the Association of European Businesses discussed topical issues and opportunities for promoting cooperation in environmental protection, the circular economy, energy efficiency, transport and logistics, healthcare digitisation, efforts to overcome the aftereffects of the coronavirus pandemic and creative industries.
They reaffirmed their willingness to broaden versatile and mutually beneficial cooperation for the sustainable development of Europe.
First of all, I would like to say that I am honoured to speak here at the 12th Northern Dimension Forum. It is gratifying that such meetings are not affected by political problems or by the pandemic. This confirms the relevance of our dialogue and cooperation, as well as, of course, the organisers’ dedication and willingness to tackle short-term difficulties. I would like to emphasise that we are grateful for the opportunity to have this dialogue, especially in the current difficult conditions. I would like to thank the Northern Dimension Business Council and its co-chairs, the Association of European Businesses, the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management, and the Graduate School of Management at St Petersburg State University. On behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I would like to wish the participants rewarding discussions and agreements that will facilitate the further development of the Northern Dimension.
Despite the contradictory signals we hear these days regarding the dialogue between Russia and the European Union, I would like to emphasise that, no matter what is being said in the European Union and overseas, relations between us – the Russian Federation and European countries – must have a truly strategic nature. We strongly believe that making them hostage to momentary political games is a short-sighted approach, just like the attempts to speak with Russia in the language of force, sanctions and blackmail.
I think I will not be stretching it to say that business sometimes shows more wisdom than politicians do. As we can see, economic ties remain in place despite the highly turbulent political situation. Trade and economic relations are expanding, if anything. Admittedly, they have decreased for various reasons since 2013, when trade between the European Union and Russia reached $417 billion. It later shrank to a mere $200 billion, and then rose again, and we believe this growth is driven by the efforts of the business community. This has to do with the quality of economic exchanges and investment, businesses’ interest in expanding to new markets, and their confidence that these markets will provide drivers for economic growth.
Once again, I would like to emphasise that politics cannot change the geography of neighbourhood. We remain close neighbours and important trade partners. We depend on each other, and Russia is not weighed down by this dependence. We are united by a common history, culture, and thousands of human ties. We share a common responsibility for the security of our common continent, Eurasia. And let me remind you that the vision of a common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, proposed by the President of the Russian Federation, remains the underlying ideology for the development of an entire range of ties, including with the European Union.
It so happened that Brussels renounced systemic work with Russia in 2014. All institutions and the entire system of our relations that had evolved for years, including the conduct of summits, were demolished. Nevertheless, life shows that there is no alternative to reasonable cooperation. And we are ready for joint work, naturally, on the basis of mutual respect and a search for a balance of interests.
We are convinced that it is always possible to cooperate, even in the current complicated circumstances. Everyone has heard about the results of the February 5 talks between Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. To be frank, it was absolutely unjust that the outcome of their talks was judged as a failure. In contrast, they discussed prospects for advancing dialogue in such significant spheres as healthcare, dealing with climate change, scientific and technological cooperation and all-out efforts to establish a “green” economy. However, little was said about this. By the way, this included prospects for introducing a carbon tax that, indeed, could create absolutely unnecessary difficulties and obstacles hampering economic cooperation.
Obviously, cooperation in digitalisation and energy, efforts to counter trans-border challenges and threats, including international terrorism, drug trafficking and cybercrime, remain in high demand. We assume that we have common interests. This concerns the situation in various regions of the world and the sphere of crisis management. The Russian Federation is ready for cooperation on an equitable basis. Of course, this also includes the fight against the pandemic which, unfortunately, has now become a stage of political and ideological confrontation. This runs completely counter to the task of coping with this common threat that knows no borders and which does not choose people in line with statehood or any other principles. And we hope very much that Russian vaccines will be certified soon, and that it will be possible to launch systemic cooperation for the benefit of all European nations in the interests of building a safe space for all its inhabitants.
Today, I would like to note that regional cooperation, first of all, within the framework of the joint policy of Russia, the European Union, Norway and Iceland (I am talking about the Northern Dimension), remains an island of stability. Our estimates show that such cooperation meets the interests of all its participants, and the experience of direct dialogue serves as a good safety net for preserving and strengthening trust; as we can see, there is now a shortage of trust in interstate relations.
As you have already said, relevant partnerships are conducting practical work to preserve the regional environment, to resolve significant transport and logistics problems and those in the area of healthcare, social wellbeing and culture. The Northern Dimension Business Council plays a special role. All of us know about its contribution to expanded economic ties between our countries, to making the region more competitive and to strengthening mutual bonds. We are confident that the Council’s active cooperation with the European Business Association makes it possible to expand the format of discussions and to advance the principles of the Northern Dimension, based on the equality, trust and mutual responsibility of partners, all over Europe.
There is huge potential, including when it comes to educating young people in this constructive spirit, in the Northern Dimension Institute (NDI) with its network that unites 33 North European universities, which can become the think tank of this policy. We hope that the connections of the DNI, which has a considerable expert capability, and of the Northern Dimension Business Council will produce increasingly greater results.
I would like to point out the diversified and multifaceted nature of regional cooperation in Northern Europe. Its important components are the programmes of cross-border and interregional cooperation between Russia and EU countries (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden), plus Norway. The programmes underway within the framework of the current budget cycle involve over 500 Russian project partners, and new programmes are being prepared for the next seven-year period. You may be aware that Russia is the only non-EU country that is investing considerable funds into cross-border cooperation.
Considering that we have the same priorities – environmental protection, healthcare, transport, culture, education, SME support, smart and marine economy – it would be reasonable to consider the alignment of the Northern Dimension’s programmes and structures, especially since Russia, which is already a member of the Baltic Sea Region programme, is preparing to join the Northern Periphery and Arctic programme.
It is no less important to strengthen the ND’s interaction and unification potential of the other multilateral cooperation platforms in Northern Europe, namely, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, and the Arctic Council.
Overall, we believe that the potential of the Northern Dimension is far from being exhausted. We can still do much more together. And we are delighted that the EU, Norway and Iceland are acting on the assumption that this instrument, which turned out to be less susceptible to changes in the political situation, should be used in the interests of regional development and hence in the interests of all the nations in the ND area that can make use of the benefits of this cooperation. I would like to wish the participants in today’s event every success and constructive discussion. I hope this will help us identify new projects that will serve the interests of our nations.
I would like to mention once again that we must not only move forward in the spheres of our traditional interaction, but also try to find common language in the fields where we simply must build up our collaboration. I have already mentioned climate change and digitalisation. The lurking danger is that, unless we launch a political dialogue right now, a day may come when as a result of political activities dividing lines will appear in these spheres of crucial importance for international cooperation, the lines we do not need if we want to preserve a united Europe.
Thank you. I would like to once again wish good health and every success to all of you.