Putin says British warship near Crimea wanted to test Russia’s military response
Josep Borrell Fontelles laying flowers on the bridge where Boris Nemtsov was murdered, February 2021
Following last week’s European Council, during which EU heads of government held a lively discussion on the EU’s relations with Russia, EU High Representative Josep Borrell explains how the EU should deal with Russia.
In recent years, relations with Russia have deteriorated sharply. Russia under President Putin distanced itself from Europe, through deliberate political choices, both at home and abroad. We want these choices to be different, but we must base ourselves on this reality and on the possibility that EU-Russia relations may even deteriorate. At the same time, we share a continent with Russia and it remains a key player on many fronts. We therefore have no other choice than to develop a reasoned, balanced and strategic approach.
At the summit, all EU leaders confirmed their determination to work for ‘a united, sustainable and strategic European approach based on the five guiding principles‘. These five principles were created by the Council in 2016, after the outbreak of the conflict in and around Ukraine, and have guided us ever since. Indeed, the leaders instructed the Council, the Commission and myself as High Representative to continue to fully implement them.
In this overall context of the five principles and to make them more operational, the Commission and I have proposed to develop our policies towards Russia along three main lines of action: push back, constrain and engage. What does it mean?
First, we must fight against deliberate violations of international law by Russia in our Member States and our neighborhood, and continue to defend democratic values. These questions directly concern all members of the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe and do not relate exclusively to the internal affairs of a country.
Pushing back also means that we must continue to support Ukraine and its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. This includes continuing to call on Russia to shoulder its responsibilities and implement the Minsk accords. We will also continue to pressure Russia for its refusal to cooperate with international efforts to bring justice to the victims of the MH17 crash over Ukraine.
âThe Union itself must become more robust, resilient and cohesive. The first form of cohesion is to preserve the unity of objectives between our Member States.
Second, we must limit Russia’s attempts to undermine the EU. The Union itself must become more robust, resilient and cohesive. The first form of cohesion is to preserve unity of purpose between our Member States. If the Member States agree on a common position in Brussels, but return to their respective capitals and bilaterally pursue a different policy, a strong position of the European Union vis-Ã -vis Russia will remain an empty shell. .
We need to fully apply EU law to tackle crime emanating from Russia, including cyber attacks, by working closely with like-minded partners. The EU must develop its cybersecurity and defense capabilities, as well as its strategic communication capabilities, by stepping up its work on the manipulation and disinformation of foreign information. We will also need to step up our fight against corruption and money laundering and ensure greater transparency on the origin and purpose of these financial flows to and from Russia.
“The more successful the Eastern Partnership countries are in their reform process, the more resilient they will be and therefore better able to withstand Russian pressure or interference.”
Another aspect of a binding policy consists in strengthening the resilience of the partner states of the European Union, in particular the members of the Eastern Partnership. This obliges them to improve their internal governance: fight against corruption, promote the independence of the judiciary and guarantee fundamental freedoms. The more successful they are in their reform process, the more resilient they will be and therefore better able to withstand Russian pressure or interference. As the EU, we will continue to support Russia’s neighbors so that they and their citizens remain free to determine their own future.
Third, the last pillar of our relationship with Russia: commitment. Like it or not, Russia is a major player on the world stage and has increased its political presence in many parts of the world, including countries where EU interests are at stake: Libya , Afghanistan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Syria are eloquent examples. I am also thinking of the JCPOA on Iran, to which Russia is a party and which we must get back on track.
There are also global issues on which it is in our best interests to engage Russia, because failure to resolve these issues will affect us all. The most important of these is climate change, where there is a clear need for cooperation, for example through the introduction of a CO2 price in Russia, or the establishment of an ETS, or the development hydrogen. The pandemic has also demonstrated the need for global cooperation in public health. The virus knows no borders, and the border between the EU and Russia is more than 2,000 kilometers long.
Above all, we must continue to engage with civil society and Russian citizens. Our quarrel is with the political choices of the Russian government, not with the Russian people. We should therefore strengthen people-to-people contacts, which could include more visa facilitation for young people, academics or other cross-border exchanges. We must continue to support Russian civil society and human rights defenders and be more flexible and creative in the way we do so.
The debate and the outcome of the European Council: what’s next?
The European Council agreed on a balanced way forward. It follows an intense debate on the last-minute proposal by France and Germany to consider re-establishing summits with Russia (there have not been any since 2014). The pros and cons of this were discussed and in the end the leaders agreed to “explore the formats and conditionalities for dialogue with Russia”.
“Foreign policy is about speaking to people with the power to influence events, including those with whom we have deep disagreements. The purpose of this engagement is precisely to influence actions and thinking.”
For my part, I can only reaffirm my commitment to work on this basis: to demand an improvement in Russia’s behavior on many issues and to recognize the need to be ready to engage.
Foreign policy is about talking to people with the power to influence events. Engaging Russia is not a luxury, much less a concession. A global actor must speak to all actors, including those with whom we have deep disagreements. The purpose of this engagement is precisely to influence actions and thinking.
We all know that Russia today has no interest in seeing the EU develop as a global player. But they cannot ignore us and neither should we allow them to bet or encourage our divisions. EU member states may have tactical but not fundamental differences when it comes to defending our values.
In the weeks and months to come, I will advance the various courses of action that the leaders have identified:
This means first and foremost working to preserve the unity of the EU, which is our greatest asset in our relations with Moscow.
Secondly, the European Council called on the Commission and myself to present options for further restrictive measures to be prepared in the event that Russia continues to violate international law in our Member States and in our neighborhood.
Thirdly, the European Council also asked the Commission and myself to develop options on topics such as climate and environment, health, as well as foreign policy issues where we can explore ways to engage with Russia. He also recalled the importance of people-to-people contacts and the need to further support Russian civil society.
âThe conclusions of the European Council set a clear direction for our relations with Russia: to keep a firm line on substance while preserving the need to maintain open channels of communication.
In summary, the conclusions of the European Council set a clear direction for our relations with Russia: to keep a firm line on the substance while preserving the need to maintain open channels of communication.
At the end of the day, Russia is our biggest neighbor. He will not go away and it is unlikely that there will be any political change in the near future that will cause him to substantially change his behavior. The EU must take this into account and develop policies which will make it possible to achieve a certain form of cohabitation, protecting our interests and values ââand stopping the escalation dynamics.