Less Hypocrisy, More Realism: How Russia and the EU Should Build Relations at a New Stage


The crisis in relations between Russia and the EU allowed both sides to formulate their interests more clearly and conduct a more open dialogue, moving away from the hypocrisy of the previous era. There is no return to the past, and for an effective interaction it is necessary to create a new formula for relations, said the participants at the presentation of the Valdai Club report, titled " The European Union’s Uncertain Future: What Should Russia Do?", which was held on May 11 at the Valdai Discussion Club Conference hall.

Despite Russia's declared pivot to the East, civilizational and cultural ties with Europe are not weakening, and the European Union remains the most important trade and economic partner of Russia, which amounts more than 40 percent of foreign trade, said Timofei Bordachev, Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, who introduced the report. Therefore, the Russian expert community needs to monitor closely what is happening in the EU, adjust its intellectual visions and deliver conclusions to the authorities.

What is happening now in the EU means a deep internal transformation through crises. This is Brexit, the presidential elections in France, where two non-systemic candidates emerged in the second round, and the values contradictions between the European core states and the "new Europe", such as Poland and Hungary. According to Bordachev, the chances for the return of the Franco-German tandem as a motor of the European integration are no more than 50%. Also, one cannot exclude that the transition to "Europe at different speeds", which is likely to happen before the end of this year, will lead to the erosion of the EU.

Meanwhile, the current Europe, torn by contradictions, is a more difficult partner for Russia than a few years ago, when the EU demonstrated more unity, said Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Alexei Meshkov, who also took part at the report presentation. "When a partner becomes unpredictable, it is more difficult to build up a policy, especially an economic one," he said. "We are interested in stabilization of the situation in the EU and that it should move in the direction of growth."

The high-ranking Russian diplomat rejected speculation that Russia was allegedly interested in the disintegration of the EU. "When they say that Russia is interested in the collapse of the European Union - this is not true, for many reasons," he said. "At the heart of our approach is a polycentric world, and it must have different poles, and we have always considered the European Union one of such poles."

Meshkov positively assessed the revival of trade and economic ties between Russia and the EU. In the first quarter of this year, the trade turnover grew by 43% compared to the "landslide" in 2016, he said. Political interaction is also reviving. According to Meshkov, the understanding is growing that Russia is an indispensable partner of the EU in solving global problems. In this sense the visit to Moscow of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, the first since 2012, is indicative.

Meshkov drew attention to the fact that the Ukrainian crisis of 2014 can only formally be considered as a dividing line in the relations between Russia and the EU, since the cooling began earlier. Therefore, today we are not talking about recreating what was lost after 2014, but about creating a new formula of relations. Nevertheless such a clear crisis in the relationship has a positive feature. "The masks are dropped," the deputy foreign minister said. "We left the hypocritical perception of our relations. We can listen to things that we do not like, but also speak frankly with our partners in Brussels."

According to the Valdai Club report, in relations with the European Union Russia should continue to follow the principle of subsidiarity, when each problem should be considered at the appropriate level. Alexei Meshkov pointed out that a successful example of the application of this principle is the strengthening of relations between Russia and a number of the EU countries. "In the conditions of the reduction of the dialogue with the EU, it was impossible to sit and wait for warming, and we began to develop cooperation with the bloc member countries, where there is mutual interest," he said.

One of the important indicators of such interest is the visa policy of certain states, the participants of the event believe. Russia simplifies as much as possible the consular formalities for the EU countries, which issue long-term Schengen visas for Russian citizens without problems, Meshkov stressed. According to Bordachev, the most important problem of consular relations between Russia and the EU remains the "wild" situation, when the EU "punishes" Russian citizens residing in the Crimea, non-issuing visas for them.

"If we talk about visa matters, the main problem is the anti-Crimean visa genocide, the ban on issuing visas to the population of the region, which was introduced for the fact that people voluntarily voted in the referendum," Meshkov commented. "This is a problem, and it will have to be solved."

Many of the difficulties in the current relations between Russia and the EU are caused by the fact that they are building up on the bottom line of consensus, when Brussels is on the sidelines of countries that are most hostile towards Russia, the deputy foreign minister believes. "We are not for pulling the stronger on the bottom. Our task is to make ourselves attractive and strong," he stressed.

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