Russia-EU: Realpolitik and PR Rhetoric

In spite of tensions a dynamic dialogue between Russia and the European Union continues in various political and economic directions.

The practical EU policy, invisible to the public and the media, is far from mass media broadcasts, said Oleg Barabanov, Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club, summing up the results of a policy dialogue titled “Russia and the EU: what options for a retuning of relations?”, which took place in Brussels on May 17, 2016.

Debates were organized by the Valdai Discussion Club together with the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC). In the framework of the event a new report of the club titled "Russia and the European Union: Three Questions Concerning New Principles in Bilateral Relations" was presented. In particular, the report mentions "six principles", which Russia should be guided by in contacts with the European Union in response to the "five principles" of the EU's relations with Russia, released by the European Commission in March, 2016. The presentation of the report was attended by over a hundred experts, journalists and visitors, among them - Amanda Paul, Senior Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre (EPC), James Sherr, Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), Fernando Guimarães, Head of the Russia Division, European External Action Service (EEAS), and many others.

According to Barabanov, during the discussion representatives of the EU expert circles have repeatedly stated that the EU is ready to accept its share of responsibility for the deterioration of relations with Russia. "They said that the previous epoch, epoch of "business as usual", was not perfect at all and the position of the European Union in relation to Russia was not sufficiently constructive. Willingness to admit own mistakes, at least partially, even with a reservation on the past - is also quite important, "- the Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club said.

Interestingly, expressing his views on the discussed issues, Fernando Guimarães), who is directly responsible for bilateral relations between Russia and the EU, called for the resumption of a dialogue, although he noted that now the cooperation was at a standstill. Guimarães admitted that despite the fact that Russia and the EU presently share different value approaches, nevertheless the economic cooperation, and interaction on certain issues of international security are still possible.

"That is, what he has done, in my view, is quite an important step for a European bureaucrat, - he acknowledged that the values do not determine the real politics, on the contrary - real politics prevails over values. For us, Russian political scientists, it is in general obvious, but the fact that it was recognized by a European official, is very important ", - Barabanov said.

According to Barabanov, many representatives of the European expert circles pointed out that the EU in its relations with Russia should use a so-called "strategy of small steps." This, in their opinion, is a "window of opportunities" in order to implement those common interests that may arise depending on the situation, on different economic and political issues. "Accordingly, the success of these "small steps" in certain areas and directions then will allow to make more stable the cooperation between the EU and Russia," - the Programme director of the Valdai Discussion Club said.

Barabanov also stressed that the same Guimarães, speaking about Russia and the EU, "in any case did not renounce the use of the term "partnership" ". On the contrary, he noted that the situational cooperation could lead to the restoration of the partnership in the future.

"The fact that the focus was on the practical steps - political and economic ones-, rather than discussing common value strategies, is very important and significant," – Barabanov said.

"A constructive attitude has been demonstrated very clearly. It is very important. And apparently, the European Commission intends to follow it in the development of relations with Russia. Obviously this will be surrounded by some other words and ideological rhetoric. But we saw a clear demonstration of the attitude that real politics is separated from the PR rhetoric" - said Oleg Barabanov.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.