Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko’s interview in connection with an anniversary date in Russia – EU relations

Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko’s interview with Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency in connection with the 25th anniversary of the Russia – EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, June 24, 2019

Question: Mr Grushko, regrettably, the current anniversary takes place in an atmosphere that is far from favourable. Russia-EU relations are still deadlocked and the sanctions pressure persists. How would you assess the role of the agreement in retrospect?

Alexander Grushko: To begin with, I’d like to emphasise the symbolic significance of the Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement for the whole of Europe. It was signed on the Greek island of Corfu on June 24, 1994 under different conditions. At that time, many people believed in a consensus of European nations as a necessity to enhance Europe’s stability and prosperity, rid it of crises and upheavals and create a common socio-economic, legal, scientific and environmental space. This explains the agreement’s unifying logic of rapprochement and partnership between Europe’s largest neighbours. It was the foundation for efforts to build a “common space” for Russia-EU cooperation. Needless to say, there were problems and differences on this road. However, up to a certain time, the participants managed to cope with them owing to the agreement’s firm contractual legal framework of cooperation. The multi-stage structure of Russia-EU political dialogue, established by the agreement, proved to be fairly strong. The agreement’s evolution, along with the EU’s internal transformation, facilitated the understanding and coordination of our positions on key international and regional issues.

It is common knowledge that history does not tolerate the subjunctive mood. However, looking back, it is possible to assume that the dynamics of a comprehensive consolidation of Russia-EU trade, economic, cultural and political ties could have probably become irreversible if the principles under which we jointly signed had been translated from slogans into practical political reality and action. I am primarily referring to equality and consideration of reciprocal interests, mutually beneficial promotion of regional cooperation and integration and the evolution of a single Europe without dividing lines.

I have to say that the EU was not ready to build relations with Russia based on taking into account these fundamental principles. The potential for rapprochement was not used in full. Time was lost in many areas. Having become involved in a geo-political game, the EU created a barrier itself by provoking the crisis in Ukraine in 2014 when it demanded that our neighbour make an artificial choice between Russia and the EU. The consequences – illegitimate unilateral sanctions and EU decisions on freezing many priority areas of cooperation dealt a heavy blow to Russia-EU relations. Obviously, this situation is abnormal. We believe it contradicts the strategic interests of the European nations. I would like to mention for justice’s sake that our position is shared by many of our European partners that favour the development of a productive dialogue with Russia.

However, even under these conditions, the 1994 agreement remains the legal foundation for our cooperation and is automatically extended every year without fail. However, there are forces that would like to approach it with the absurd logic that “the worse the better.” I am referring, for one thing, to an attempt by certain members of the European parliament to include in the report on the state of Russia-EU political relations the idea of suspending the agreement under the pretext that Russia is no longer an EU strategic partner. The very existence of such ideas in the minds of a part of the EU establishment shows that we will have to climb an uphill road to normalise our relations.

Question: The European Parliament elections are over. The next step is appointing new leaders in the European institutions in Brussels. Is there any chance for better relations or a shift in the political dialogue between Russia and the EU?

Alexander Grushko: I think you should ask the EU. We are not proposing any preconditions for lifting the artificial trade and economic restrictions and resuming a full dialogue at all levels on the entire spectrum of bilateral and international issues.

It is clear that we will not be returning to “business as usual” like before the 2014 crisis. Moreover, reviving the previous forms of cooperation, even when dressed in fine slogans, is unlikely to protect us from relapses into the confrontational and unequal approaches that I have mentioned. Obviously, in the future relations should be based on pragmatism and the practical needs of our states, citizens and business circles. I am confident that we will find quite a few points of contact within this paradigm. After all, Russia and the EU countries not only belong to the same cultural and civilisational matrix, but are also linked by many ties in trade and investment cooperation, scientific and technological exchange and personal contact. Common geography dictates the need to join hands in opposing trans-border threats, such as terrorism and drug trafficking. In addition, we face basically the same challenges in adapting to demographic and climate change, in introducing a new model for an innovation economy, and modernising its technological basis. In this sense, much “value added” can be derived from linking the economic potential of the two currently coexisting on the continent major integration projects, the EAEU and the EU.

It is also clear that Russia-EU relations are not developing in a vacuum. The world is rapidly changing and polycentrism has become a reality. Drivers of economic growth and political influence are shifting towards the East. For this reason alone, it is hardly appropriate to speak about a return to the Greater Europe project. Russian President Vladimir Putin formulated the agenda of forming a single Eurasian economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, and this agenda is moving to the fore. But it is also true that Russia-EU relations will remain an axis in this space.

We hope that the politicians, who will soon fill important posts in European institutions, will have enough pragmatism and realism to overcome inertia in relations with our country. Given the dynamically changing global landscape, they as never before will need a view of things unrestricted by ideological blinders.

Question: Doesn’t it bother you that we are being accused of interfering in the European Parliament elections now?

Alexander Grushko: I remember that prior to the European Parliament elections, some leading European news agencies speculated that Russia might interfere with the European Union’s election processes. It seemed like European public opinion was being conditioned to accept that the anticipated poor election results for mainstream EU parties were caused by “malicious Russian interference.”

However, no facts were ever presented, which is easy to explain – this is not our style. Russia has never interfered, does not interfere and is not planning to interfere in EU elections or any other elections whatsoever. We are ready to cooperate with representatives of any political party elected by European voters and committed to rebuild full-fledged cooperation with Russia.

Speaking of the accusations that you have mentioned – we see them as a part of a much larger campaign to discredit Russia. The unsubstantiated, hastily fabricated outbursts against our country smack of outright populism and cannot be viewed as anything other than an effort to blame Russia for the problems in the EU and to justify the need for increased spending to combat the imaginary “Russian threat.”

Question: So is the European Union more of an opponent to Russia, or still a partner?

Alexander Grushko: Despite the existing disagreements and natural competitiveness of the international sphere, Russia has never changed its principal approaches to cooperating with the EU. It is enough to quote the Russian Federation's current Foreign Policy Concept that states that the European Union remains an important trade and economic and foreign policy partner; the Russian Federation is interested in building constructive, stable and predictable cooperation with the EU member states based on the principles of equality and mutual respect for each other’s interests.

We think that the European Union has significant potential to strengthen international stability and security as well as promote the establishment of a truly multipolar world. We are interested in seeing a European Union that is united, strong, and, importantly, independent in decision-making, and able to resist the pressure of those using every possible means, including dirty ones, to deepen the dividing lines on the continent.

It comes as no surprise to anyone that most EU member states understand that there is no alternative to having neighbourly and mutually beneficial relations with Russia. But for some reason, this is not reflected in the EU’s general strategy concerning Russia. For our part, we are not planning to close ourselves off from Europe as we have always been a part of it. This is our continent. At the same time, we will, of course, continue our policy of developing diverse ties with partners in other parts of the world.

Question: On June 19, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini answered a European deputy that the agricultural sector of the European Union has “recovered from the Russian countersanctions.” According to her, they have moderately affected the European economy. Would you comment on this statement?

Alexander Grushko: I cannot say what sources Ms Mogherini relied on. But it is hard not to notice the atmosphere in the European business community. The Russian leadership holds regular meetings with representatives of European businesses, who note that the sanctions standoff between Russia and the EU affects their interests. Examples abound. Numerous studies, across the full range of assessments, show a very dramatic picture of the economic damage both sides suffered as a result of sanctions. Several days ago, speaking live on Russian television, President of Russia Vladimir Putin said the EU had lost $240 billion due to the sanctions.

By the way, recently, on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, the prime minister of a large German federal state said it was necessary to lift the EU anti-Russian sanctions as soon as possible. That position was supported by heads of other German states and representatives of the German business community. According to them, the exports from just the East German states plummeted 60 per cent after the EU introduced the sanctions.

It seems European politicians and businesses have something to think about here.

Question: A recent European Council meeting passed a bunch of resolutions with negative implications on Russian issues. Does this mean  we still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Alexander Grushko: Indeed, the “conclusions” concerning Russia approved at the recent European Council meeting on June 20 cannot be interpreted in any other  way but further confirmation of the persisting confrontational inertia in the EU’s approach to relations with our country. Calling for the release of the Ukrainian sailors who were involved in the deliberate trespassing of Russia’s state border in the Kerch Strait area in November 2018, Brussels has still not admitted Kiev’s responsibility for that provocative and extremely risky action. Our willingness to render maximum assistance for a professional and depoliticised investigation into the circumstances of the July 2014 Malaysian airliner crash is still being ignored. That the meeting participants mentioned the unfounded accusations about the Russian military’s involvement in this plane crash put forward by the Joint Investigation Team only confirms to us the politicised and biased nature of these investigative actions aimed at supporting the originally selected version and discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community.

Yet, unfortunately, the EU’s obvious inability to objectively explore the causes of the current impasse in relations with Russia does not end here. Again, we do not see in European Council “conclusions” any understanding of Russia’s humanitarian motives in deciding to introduce a simplified procedure for issuing Russian passports to residents of the DPR and LPR. Instead of considering the hardships that have befallen the people in southeastern Ukraine due to Kiev’s inhuman policy, the EU reflexively resorts to the useless tool of sanctions. However, Donbass residents, many of whom have survived a fifth year of an embargo blockade and artillery attacks, will hardly be intimidated by the EU not recognizing their Russian passports.

Finally, there is no need to repeat that the decision made by the European Council on another extension of sectoral sanctions under the cynical pretext of “non-compliance with the Minsk agreements” is nothing but regrettable and just another missed opportunity to improve the situation on the European continent. As before, hardest hit by this decision will be the EU business community and ordinary citizens already suffering from a sanctions war. For my part, I will again emphasise that we are not geared for confrontation and will be ready to restore cooperation with the European Union whenever they are ready for it. We hope that common sense will eventually prevail.