Within the frames of the current confrontation with Russia, the EU looks quite monolithic. The EU speaks with one voice and unanimously supports new sanctions. Nevertheless, the objective need for economic and political relations with the big East neighbor on the one side and strained relationships on the other provokes erosion of the "European unity". What are the perspectives of EU-Russia relationships? What is the role of the Baltic countries in this dialogue? RuBaltic.Ru discussed these topics with the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov:
- I suppose, Vladimir Alekseevich, you will agree with me that relationships between Russia and the EU go through the hard times. But let me ask about your view on this dialogue: is it optimistic or pessimistic?
- I guess that our dialogue with the EU is quite difficult. It is still going on, but not in the way we wish to.
At the moment this dialogue is highly influenced by the Ukraine crisis, but it would be just simplification to find all our problems in the Ukraine issue.
Even before this crisis our cooperation had a lot of difficulties. I can give you two examples. Firstly, there were two parallel dialogues: one of them about visa-free regime, the second about visa facilitation. There was such situation: at the moment we approached the positive results, some problems appeared on the EU side and the situation slid back. Secondly, the question about European security. In spite of the numerous Russian initiatives, such as the European Security Treaty, issues of the missile defense cooperation and making the necessary legal framework of the OSCE, there was one initiative which didn’t belong to Russia.
It was so-called Meseberg initiative 2010, when the Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel suggested establishing the Foreign Affairs Council of Russia and the European Union, as a body which would be engaged in the development of common foreign policy and monitoring of its implementation. That was a good idea and the President of Russia V.Putin reacted to this initiative positively. But in practice it was found out that the idea wasn't supported by all EU countries and all undertakings were gradually stopped. These examples prove that the problems have started long before the Ukraine.
- Has the Ukraine crisis made the lack of understanding between Russia and the EU an obvious thing?
- There are some serious questions about the EU position on Ukraine. At the beginning this unclear position contributed to the forming of many wrong illusions in the Ukrainian society about the meaning of the association agreement.
As a result those young people, who came to the Maidan at the beginning, were sure that the signing of the agreement would mean the full membership. But in fact nobody made such offer to Ukraine. And no one makes it now.
Was the destructive role of the EU limited only by this, it wouldn't be so terrifying. But simultaneously with the obvious degradation of the movement and changing the slogan “Ukraine is a European country” to the portrait of Bandera and Anti-Russian yells, the EU kept on supporting this situation. Therefore the EU has to be responsible for what happened later.
Nevertheless, we understand that the cooperation between Russia and the European Union is conditioned by our historical links with Europe, our economic complementarity, the cultural ties, the contacts between people etc. So we don’t stop the contacts with the EU. All sanctions were an initiative of the EU. How will our further relationships look like? We will see. I guess there is no sense today to tell fortunes, we have to use the facts.
- You are speaking about the problem part of the relationships with the EU, which was formed before the Ukraine crisis. How big is the role of the ideological factor as a reason why our relations are developing so hard? Now is popular the opinion that European policy goes faraway from pragmatism.
- It is not rather an ideological thing. Therefore I don’t think that we faced “the second edition” of the Cold War. After all the Cold War was an ideological confrontation, there was a struggle of two irreconcilable ideologies. Contemporary situation is not the same. It is rather geopolitical confrontation.
Accusing Russia of the “annexation” of the Crimea, our partners don’t think about the enlargement of the EU, as a kind of annexation. After all the member states are faced with the choice (in my opinion, artificial): either go forward to a “bright future” with the EU, or move back to the “dark past” with Russia.
This is not right. And all this noise which was around the elections in Moldova is the best confirmation of it.
- The particular subject in the EU-RF dialogue is a heterogeneity of the EU position concerning Russia…
- I would say: “concerning everything”. For example, in the topic of migration we can see the deep cleavage that goes over La Manche.
- Doubtlessly, this is a wide issue. But if we will focus on the Russian case, how would you characterize the position of Eastern Europe, particularly Poland and the Baltic countries, within the framework of this question?
- I wouldn’t compare all East European countries together. The political traditions in mentioned countries are well known. So it was hard to expect that they will immediately abandon these traditions as soon as they join the EU.
Although 10 years ago our EU colleagues convinced us, that the new members would join “mainstream” quite soon. But it turns out now, that these countries in many aspects determine the direction of this stream.
- Don’t they see, I mean West Europeans, that the rhetoric of Eastern part conflicts with interests of the whole EU? And if they see it, then why don't they try to calm down “youngsters”?
- They react inside the Union trying not to “tell tales out of school”.
Therefore the discussions about Russia within the EU go quite keenly.
- How do you think, this provocative behavior of the Baltic countries has a strategic aim or this is just a petty crime?
- I think you should ask them about it. I would call it the provincial political behavior.
- Is there a high possibility that the relationships will follow the escalation track because of the efforts of the Baltic countries?
- I hope that it will never happen, and common-sense will prevail.