Brussels, 16 April 2019
Russia and the EU in a multipolar world
I suppose that few people today, including among those present in this audience, doubt that our world is getting progressively multipolar. New economic and political centres emerge and consolidate aspiring to play a greater role in international affairs and entering complex systems of interaction. This process is multi-faceted, it has various appearances and dimensions, names and interpretations. One can call it multilateralism, polycentrism, regionalisation, processes of both integration and disintegration.
It is quite natural that traditional centres of geopolitical and economic power, including countries of the European Union, aspire to preserve their leading positions, defend them in the face of internal and external destructive processes. Some, of course, go even further, claiming an exclusive role in world affairs for themselves. On the other hand, in today’s world it is hardly justified for anybody to claim uniqueness and global dominance, attempt to dictate a set of standards and values – allegedly advanced and universal, but actually randomly selected and not always respected by the authors themselves – that all others are supposed to blindly follow. For instance, EU documents and public statements by its leaders constantly repeat the idea that an “international rules-based order” is the ultimate centre of gravity to be protected at all costs. At the same time it remains unclear who formulates these rules and why from now on everybody should observe them rather than international law provisions agreed by consensus, with the UN Charter at its core.
Equally so, it is hardly sensible in the long run to count on ramping up confrontation and withdrawing from basic international treaties, stretching from the field of environment and sustainable development and all the way to international trade, disarmament and security, rather than cooperation and coordination of efforts among neighbours and partners.
In these circumstances temptation to resort to unilateral economic measures, extraterritorial restrictions, intricate forms of protectionist barriers, search for “systemic rivals” and “rogue states” can only bring back the logic of containment and confrontation, so familiar of the Cold War period. But in the new 21st century environment it will hardly result in anything but accelerated weakening of the self-proclaimed candidate to the role of global hegemon. With every year that passes more and more subjects of international law demonstrate maturity and unwillingness to accept the role they have been assigned – be it the role of a vassal attending to alien interests to its own detriment, or that of chess pieces others exchange in their race for global leadership.
So it comes as no surprise that nowadays leaders of EU countries are more outspoken regarding the need to take the region’s fate in their hands and reflect more often on a new configuration of cooperation in Europe and Eurasia. I believe it is important that EU Member States realise that what we call “European civilisation” can only be preserved against the backdrop of rising economic giants – in Asia today, in Latin America tomorrow and Africa the day after – only if one of its pillars, Russia, is engaged and they listen closely to Russia’s proposals to establish a common economic and humanitarian space in Eurasia – from Lisbon (or should I say the West coast of Ireland, or even Reykjavik) to Vladivostok (or, accordingly, Anadyr on the Chukotka peninsula).
Remaining open to promoting and deepening cooperation with the EU and other partners, Moscow does not claim the role of their “elder brother”, as some “friends” of the EU do, or the right to be considered as their sole key ally. We do not impose our goods on the EU, nor do we demand that they abandon commercially beneficial investment and infrastructure projects with other countries. Quite the opposite, we advocate an inalienable right of every state or integration union to carry out a multi-vector policy guided by its own economic interests.
In spite of the sanctions policy initiated by Brussels (and Washington, lest we forget) and the countermeasures Russia had to adopt, business on both sides remains interested in continuing to work together. Interaction between Russia and EU business circles confirms that normalisation of bilateral relations at political level is in demand. At the most recent International Arctic Forum held in Saint Petersburg on 9-10 April President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin stressed once again the futility of sanctions pressure on our country that is de facto used as an instrument of unfair competition and has so far constituted on a number of occasions an attempt to attain geopolitical targets under the cover of the notorious “Russian threat”.
Russia is interested in strengthening international economic cooperation, is ready to work on an open and mutually beneficial basis with foreign companies and investors, including within the context of its industrial policy aimed at production localisation, creating high-tech products not only for the Russian market but with a view to entering other markets.
The economic potentials of Russia and EU complement each other quite well and are mutually reinforcing. At the same time, it would be narrow and short-sighted for Brussels and EU Member States to consider our country only as a source of much-needed raw materials or as an additional export market where EU norms and standards could be expanded on a unilateral basis in a way similar to currently well-known asymmetric association agreements. Perception of Russia as a transit territory to be crossed as quickly as possible to enter other markets does not quite fit our vision either. I would note that our cooperation with the PRC on developing infrastructure projects in Eurasia is developing on different principles, and in the near future will result in a number of new points of economic growth in Russia, other EAEU member states and on our Eurasian continent as a whole. I believe that EU business and political leaders should not regard strengthening of Eurasian connectivity with excessive suspicion and ideological bias.
This track offers good prospects to enhance economic cooperation and, therefore, opens up new opportunities for business. We consider that cooperation in implementing programmes in this field should be developed in an integrated manner to include elements of infrastructure and technological connectivity, multilateral legal framework to enable trans-Eurasian transportation, as well as developing cross-border digital and other high-tech systems.
However, here we do not see our EU partners to be ready to work together on an equal and mutually beneficial basis. For instance, the First Forum of “Connecting Eurasia Dialogue – from the Atlantic to the Pacific” was held in Brussels on 15 March. Topical issues of multilateral economic cooperation and connectivity on the Eurasian continent were discussed at the Forum. It was organised by the “Conoscere Eurasia” Association of Italy and the “Roscongress” Foundation of Russia with the aid of the Association of European Businesses in Russia and active support of my Mission. It brought together representatives of Russian and international business circles, politicians, experts from Russia and a number of other countries of the Eurasian continent. European institutions’ representatives had been also invited, but no high-ranking official of either the European Commission or the EEAS found the courage to articulate the position of the European Union at the Forum. And I would stress that the Forum was strictly non-political, dedicated to economic issues only.
Throughout history Europe and Asia have been united by common interests in economy, politics and culture, trade routes were built and large-scale connecting infrastructure projects implemented. By virtue of geographical, cultural and civilisational factors Russia has always played the role of a link between West and East. Modern interpretation of this idea is embodied in the concept of establishing a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin to create a Greater Eurasian Partnership. Elaborating efficient cooperation mechanisms between EAEU and EU institutions would fully meet economic interests of our countries. In order to maintain its positions in the world it is important for the European Union to abandon artificial restrictions in the sphere of interaction between interstate integration institutions, such as the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) and the European Commission (EC), and the misconception that the goals of various integration associations in Eurasia are ostensibly incompatible.
Otherwise chances are that European countries will end up on the margin of global economic processes and instead of taking part in building bridges and modern transportation corridors they will be forced to copy alien drawings of walls and barriers, dig trenches along new dividing lines in Europe that, as experience suggests (can I mention Brexit as an example here?), are likely to run not only along the external perimeter of the current EU.
In my view, principles of cooperation, multi-level integration, multipolarity, and “unity in diversity” form the basis of existence of the EU as a successful union. Switching to the logic of protectionism and confrontation – first towards external and then inevitably, I am afraid, towards internal “systemic rivals” – may turn out to be fatal to its self-preservation and successful development. I can assure you that my country is by no means interested in this scenario becoming reality. On the other hand, a Brussels speaking with one, but alien voice or shaping its policy on the basis of negative consensus when any sensible initiatives are blocked by an aggressive minority has little chance of becoming a reliable partner we can negotiate with.
In my view, at this crunch point in modern history business is called to play an important role in prompting the EU to become more independent politically, gain wider credibility as a negotiating partner, realise its own and pan-European economic interests, enhance mutually beneficial cross-border economic ties within the Eurasian space, and build an efficient system of international cooperation, free from excessive red tape, ideological obstacles and spoils of the Cold War.
I would also like to hope that the renewal later this year of such major supranational bodies as the European Parliament and the European Commission will enable the European Union to become stronger and deal with both internal differences and today’s multipolar world challenges in an efficient way. I hope that pragmatic approach and genuine European interests, as well as understanding that equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia constitutes a key factor of successful development of the European Union itself will prevail in EU policy. On our part, we remain open to a constructive dialogue with those who would bear responsibility for the further fate of the EU.