Dear participants of the discussion,
The nature of my work requires everyday extensive reading, mainly of official documents, press and scientific publications. A report by the EU-Russia expert network forecasting the development of relations between Moscow and Brussels until 2030 has definitely varied my daily routine. I was submerged by a feeling of having in my arms a fiction paper containing a mixture of various genres ranging from melodrama to horror stories. Making 10-year forecasts in our rapidly evolving world is clearly a challenging task, sometimes even unsafe and surely unrewarding. After all, who could have described today’s world just a year ago?
Still, I believe that there are certain stepping stones that will remain in the next decade regardless of political or economic environment. Current volatility of the global situation will, I am afraid, persist. US-China rivalry that has recently come to the fore will also continue. Russia and the EU will quite predictably remain neighbours and partners. I will not add any definition or adjective to the last term, such as “strategic” or “advanced”. But a range of objective factors suggest that Russia and the EU are destined to much more than, in the words of a prominent frau-politician, “sharing the same landmass”.
The centuries-forged traditions of our relations, that quite naturally had their ups and downs, will not go away. The mutually complementary character of our economies will not disappear either. And, most importantly, our inter-dependence and joint responsibility for the fate of our continent will stay there. And, given that three out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council are located in a larger Europe, global responsibility for the fate of the world will remain as well.
Certainly, and I feel obliged to say this once more, today the state of our relations with the European Union is abnormal. Besides, let us put it straight, the longer they stay this way, the harder it will be to rectify the situation. And comprehensive recipes to change such state of affairs that would be acceptable to everybody are, alas, obviously missing.
We are fully aware of what the current Brussels policy towards Russia is based on. The well-known “Federica Mogherini’s five principles” of 2016 may get different interpretations, but I believe many will share my view that they fail to meet the requirements of today, not to mention those of tomorrow.
I think it is clear to everybody that attempts to add artificial schemes to our relations bring on nothing good. Such an approach, as we have been witnessing for the last six years, has resulted in de facto making our relations hostage to a specific conflict situation where neither Russia, nor, by and large, the European Union are the main actors.
A clear abuse of the European solidarity principle, a good idea in general, is another artificially introduced element. When this principle becomes the defining and, moreover, the only way to settle differences within the European Union, it translates into the EU adopting its stance on the lowest common denominator basis, at best, and further poisoning the atmosphere of Russia-EU dialogue, at worst. In this regard, we are keenly following the on-going discussion in Brussels on maintaining or abandoning the principle of unanimity in EU decision-making on foreign policy.
Needless to say that the turning the so-called sanctions regime into a tool of practical policy on the Russian track is an approach that can only cause not even indignation, but lament at the short-sightedness of those piling up ever larger obstacles on the way of our relations by their own hands.
I will not contest – the picture I have painted appears quite gloomy. But I am convinced that the problems I enumerated do not allow us to sit idle. In the current political “weather” the task of diplomats and all those directly involved in Russia-EU relations does not consist in waiting it out “under an umbrella”, whatever beautiful formulas of European or any other values would be written on it. Persistent work is required in order to, first, preserve elements still uniting us, and, second, look for opportunities of broadening the scope of our interaction. It should be certainly done on the basis of equality and non-discrimination. Foreign policy veterans do not need to be told that hard times and confrontation periods require dialogue more than ever. Particularly as both EU Member States and the EU Brussels institutions acknowledge publicly that multiple crises all over the world cannot be overcome without Russia’s contribution.
The Chinese used to call their country the “Middle Kingdom” but they may have been wrong, in my view. In today’s multipolar world it is Russia that is best fitted for the role of the “middle state”, i.e. the pole where multiple roads converge. It goes without saying that its location both in Europe and Asia has destined my country to be the key element of “integrating integrations” – that is conjugating economic potentials of the two largest integration projects co-existing on our continent, the EAEU and the EU. And I will not stop repeating – there is no sensible alternative to cooperation between these two mutually complementary structures in our highly competitive and unsafe world.
We see cooperation between an ever broader range of partners as an equally natural process – I am referring to the proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish a Greater Eurasian Partnership that would include the EAEU participating countries, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and other interested states and integration formats. We would, of course, welcome the European Union to participate in this partnership. Especially as we observe that, even as the EU leadership had refused for quite a long time to acknowledge the EAEU as an equal trading partner, economic interests finally started to progressively fight their way through odious political directives. Well, one can hardly fail to notice that pragmatic and ideologically unbiased representatives of Russian and EU business have long been waiting for an opportunity to resume full-fledged, healthy and mutually beneficial cooperation. We can only welcome such attitude.
Russia does not turn away from Europe or the European Union. We actually never turn away from anyone, it is not our style. At the same time, Russians – a nation that has without exaggeration enjoyed a great history – do not like, to put it mildly, anyone trying to “teach them how to live” and squeeze them to fit foreign templates. Russia, in its turn, never tries to educate other countries, let alone “punish them for misbehaviour”, rightfully expecting an equally respectful attitude from others. I am sure that, should our partners start taking our approach seriously, we will finally be able to tackle the most essential part of our joint future process – resurrecting mutual trust. It will certainly require time and highly rigorous efforts by both sides. Otherwise, the chronicle of Russia-EU relations will continue gradually turning into a record of missed opportunities. Well, it is known that “the darkest hour is that before the dawn”, and I do hope that in the near future – at least well before 2030 – we will leave the current difficult period of our relations behind and start a new, much more fruitful one. Russia would be sincerely willing to.