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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Wednesday, 23.09.2020, 16:16

EU-Russia relations: from strategic partnership to strategic challenge

Vygaudas Ušackas, EU Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Baltic Rim Economies, www.utu.fi, 13.01.2017.Print version
For a number of years, the EU and Russia had assumed the existence of a strategic partnership, based on the con vergence of values, economic integration and increasingly open markets and a modernisation agenda for society. Our agenda was positive and ambitious.

Breaking point on the path of building even closer relations was 2014. The events in Ukraine – illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilisation in Eastern Ukraine – have shaken the foundations of European security and created a European security crisis. From that moment, differences and confrontations proliferated; trust decreased and for the EU side managing the relationship with Russia currently represents a key strategic challenge. It is an irrefutable and at the same time regrettable fact.

 

Politically, we differ over Ukraine. Russia claims it has “nothing to return” and positions itself as a mediator rather than a party to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine while, in reality. Russia remains heavily involved by providing military security as well as funding for nearly all civil structures in the rebel-held territory. We differ over Syria as well in particular over the escalating violence and consequent humanitarian crisis which is causing untold civilian suffering. EU’s profound position

on this conflict is that there is no military solution to this conflict, and every new escalation only prolongs the suffering of all Syrian people. We see things differently over the Eastern Partnership. Russia recognizes this EU’s initiative as a geopolitical project, interfering with a perceived legitimate Russian sphere of interests rather than a foreign policy instrument to promote democracy, stability and prosperity of neighbouring region.

 

Economically, Russia has started to turn its back on open market and competition even before the events of 2014 and ensuing EU’s imposed restrictive measures. It has promoted insulation, self-sufficiency and import-substitution ever since its accession to the WTO in 2012. Furthermore, trade restrictions are used as foreign policy tools, what has become obvious from the examples of Ukraine and Moldova when their trade agreement with the EU entered into force. Yet, despite the irritants, the EU remains the largest trading partner for Russia while Russia is amongst the top four EU’s, regardless of the fact that since 2012 our overall trade turnover has being declining (dropped by 40% since 2012). The EU is by far the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment in Russia, flows of which has been reducing and currently have fallen to 2002-low. In addition, in the area of energy 40% of EU’s gas imports and 30% of oil imports come from Russia which affects that almost 50% of the Russian budget relies on income from sales of gas and oil.

 

The EU and Russia also differently accept the role of political opposition, civil society and of promotion of human rights. Political competition is a source of instability and disorder while the civil society and human rights defenders tend to be perceived as a threat to the political regime and not as an essential component of a democratic and healthy society.

 

Some of enlisted differences can be softened, but some are likely to remain irreconcilable in the foreseeable future. At the same time Russia and the EU remain of strategic importance to each other and have a number of overlapping interests. Be it antiterrorism, migration, climate change, maritime security, Middle East in general or Afghanistan, interdependence in the international arena certainly is one of them. The Iranian nuclear talks remain a good example, where our joint efforts managed to produce a landmark agreement.

  

Thus, the challenge for both sides is to avoid clashes, due to reduced scope of communication channels, and to navigate differences in ways that serve the interest of each of the sides.

 

The EU has set how to manoeuvre them when in March this year unanimously and transparently endorsed and announced five guiding principles of bilateral relations with Russia. From its side, Moscow is seeking to restore relations on its own terms – it is actively enforcing policy of bilateralization of relations with EU Member States; proposes creation of a zone of economic and humanitarian cooperation between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while forgetting this zone passes over the Dnieper river, and advocates the harmonisation of the European and Eurasian integration processes.

 

Although it is difficult to foresee anything, especially considering the last events on the international political scene, no changes should be expected in Russia’s policies before the presidential elections due in 2018. For the EU, a consistent and united approach must remain the cornerstone of its policy toward Russia. However, at some point the EU will need to elaborate an inclusive long-term vision for how Russia could be engaged – but firmly on the grounds of international rules and its principles and values.

 

 






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