Joint Communication from High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and the European Commission on EU policy in relations with Russia

Briefing by Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova

We have received a number of media questions on the Joint Communication from High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and the European Commission on EU policy in relations with Russia, published on June 16.

A source in Brussels, I think, or at least affiliated with EU institutions, said its date of publication was chosen without regard for the Russian-US summit, held on that same day. It has never occurred to me that the dates for publishing such documents are chosen without thinking. This is the first time in our experience. 

We familiarised ourselves with the contents of this document. Let me recall that it was prepared jointly by the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell and the European Commission at the instruction of the European Council. It was initiated by EU leaders who sought a strategic review of EU priorities in relations with Russia. We believed that following this work Brussels and other key EU capitals would revise the current EU line towards Russia, proceeding from their long-term interests. Since 2016, it has been based on the well-known principles of Federica Mogherini. This policy led to stagnation and destroyed the architecture of relations. A strategic revision could become the foundation for a new beginning marked by greater predictability and stability. We know there is a demand in the EU for such a positive scenario and this is natural. In this highly competitive world in which we face an unprecedented surge in global cross-border challenges, the need for all stakeholders to work together is greater than ever before.

However, these were merely expectations. In reality we have to say that the intellectual contribution of the EU agencies does not make the prospect of normalisation between two largest neighbours in Europe any less distant. The document is not free of ideology. It is hard to view it as deliberation of the fundamental interests of Europeans as regards Russia. The ideas of the authors about Russia are divorced from reality and intended to create a myth about “the threat from the East.” We have just said that this is a NATO term and now we are calling it an EU term. As we said before, unfortunately, NATO is doing more and more to destroy the independence of the European Union, as this document confirms. The narratives about our country that migrate from one document to the next have nothing to do with the national policy of the Russian Federation or the interests of the Russian people.

The triad of principles “to push back, constrain and engage with Russia” (which may sound normal to the Brussels bureaucracy but grates on the ears in traditional diplomacy) that Josep Borrell expressed after his visit to Moscow last February, is formulated in the spirit of the Cold War. At that time the notorious concept of deterrence was considered all important and now it is being invoked again. Needless to say, such principles cannot serve as the foundation for constructive and sustainable relations between Russia and the EU, or make for more than a situational relationship, much less bring about the “renewed partnership” the authors call for. The document abounds in contradictions.

We categorically dismiss the host of groundless accusations of projecting “hybrid” or any other threats to the EU’s interests and integrity, which are so hard to believe because Brussels itself avoids discussing its stated concerns about cybersecurity and measures against disinformation in a professional dialogue with us. We are ready to discuss these issues at all levels, in any format and at a time that suits our partners. We have suggested this more than once but unfortunately, we have received no response so far. But then they raise concerns in their documents.

The European Union is trying to position itself as a “guardian” of international law. However, its interpretation of the Minsk Package of Measures, approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2202, creates the impression that EU officials have not read this foundational document for the Ukraine settlement process. It states clearly who the parties to the conflict are. They have completely forgotten the provisions of the Normandy format declaration by the heads of state of February 12, 2015, which indicate a clear-cut commitment of the leaders to contribute to the implementation of the Package of Measures by using the influence they have with different parties. EU members are not bringing any influence to bear on Kiev and, what’s more, they encourage the leadership in Kiev to subvert the Minsk agreements.

The EU prefers to ignore the fact that Crimea’s reunification with Russia and the conflict in southeastern Ukraine are the predictable outcome of the EU efforts to push through its Eastern Partnership policy and its support for the anti-constitutional coup in Kiev in February 2014. This policy forces the countries of this “common neighbourhood” to make an artificial choice between Russia and the EU. Let me recall that the organisers of the coup announced their intention to get rid of everything Russian in Crimea, thereby leaving the Crimeans with no other choice than the one they eventually made. As for human rights commitments in the OSCE and the Council of Europe, we advise EU agencies, before hurling unfounded accusations at Russia, to deal with the outrageous violation of the rights of Russian speakers and undisguised censorship of the media in the Baltic states and Ukraine. There are many instances and we regularly report them to our partners but there has been no clear response.

In general, the philosophy of this document developed in the bowels of EU agencies shows that many EU politicians would like to develop cooperation solely on the basis of their own convictions which they hold to be the only right ones, while continuing to refashion the world as they see fit, proceeding from their understanding of which values are true. And they believe that if they fail, they must fence themselves off with dividing lines, ultimatums, and illegal unilateral sanctions that violate international law. It is hard to see the document’s forecast of a further deterioration of relations between Russia and the EU as anything other than evidence of an unwillingness to renounce this archaic approach, the ideology of bloc confrontation and their own “domination”, “rectitude in all things”, and “exceptionalism”. It is glaringly obvious how the EU is, by inertia, following in the conceptual wake of NATO and the United States. The document devotes much attention to coordinating actions with them as regards Russia. What kind of “strategic autonomy” can there be in this case?

We are open to cooperation with the EU on the principles of equality and mutual respect. We are not seeking to avoid the painstaking work of searching for points of overlap for the benefit of all residents of Europe (the document admits that Russia and the EU are bound by common history, geography and people-to-people contacts). Unfortunately, this is admitted only on paper. The EU does not back this up with practical actions. Meanwhile, we are guided by the fundamental Helsinki principles of non-interference in internal affairs, cooperation between states and conscientious implementation of commitments under international law. Our future agenda should not consist solely of our existing differences. They are not the only issue worth dealing with.

The communication presented by Josep Borrell still shows that the EU understands the importance of Russia-EU dialogue in some areas, such as healthcare, climate change, digital, science and education, countering cross-border challenges and threats, and the settlement of international and regional issues. This list is consonant with our ideas on promising areas of cooperation. We are ready to work together in these areas if Brussels develops the political will for that. But we suggest that those who are responsible for the EU’s policy towards Russia should stop looking at events outside their EU offices through the keyhole of ideological approaches. They should open their eyes to the multilateral and diverse international order in which Russia will continue playing a creative and responsible role in accordance with its national interests. This is what Brussels should do.