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Andrey Kortunov

Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, RIAC member

In this short interview for 45north, Mr. Kortunov expressed his opinions vis-a-vis the relationship between Europe, and Eastern Europe in particular, and the Russian Federation.

In this short interview for 45north, Mr. Kortunov expressed his opinions vis-a-vis the relationship between Europe, and Eastern Europe in particular, and the Russian Federation.

45north: Mr. Kortunov, in a recent Brookings panel discussion held in Doha, Qatar, you’ve said that the view from Russia is that the real border in international relations is not between democracy and authoritarianism, but between order and chaos. What would Russia understand, in terms of its foreign policy, by “order” in its relation with Eastern European countries?

A.Kortunov: If you look at the recent Kremlin’s policy in the post-Soviet space in general, you will see that it always preferred status quo to change.  For instance, Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus has never been an easy partner for Moscow, but Russia has never let him down. The Kremlin consistently supported authoritarian regimes in Central Asia and in the South Caucasus despite many problems and inconveniences that these regimes created for Russia. On the other hand, the so called ‘colored revolutions’ in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan were interpreted as a direct challenge to the regional order and potential threats to Russia’s security. 

45north: How would you characterize the recent wave of expulsions of Russian diplomats from Europe and North America in relations with the Skripal case? Being one of the largest collective expulsion of Russian diplomats in history, do you see this escalating any further, and if so, how?

A.Kortunov : This is a serious problem – not only for Russia, but also for the West. To expel diplomats means to cut important communication lines and to cut communication lines means to increase the risks of mistakes, miscalculations, wrong interpretations of intentions and actions on the other side. A more isolated Russia is likely to be less predictable and more challenging for the West. Thus, I hope that these expulsions will remain limited and channels of communication will remain open.

45north: Nord Stream 2 has recently received clearance from the Federal Agency for Maritime Navigation and Hydrography in Germany, for the roughly 85 mile stretch of pipeline that will eventually run through its territory. In the mean time, a coalition of German politicians, including from Merkel’s own CDU, have written an open letter voicing their protest against the geopolitical charged project. Taking into account the rough rhetoric between the West and Russia, do you see the project being completed and if so, what will be the geopolitical impact for Eastern Europe?

A.Kortunov: I do not like the adjective ‘geopolitical’ – it contains a lot of hypocrisy, in my view. The European Union has always argued that energy should not be used as a political tool. I still recall bumper stickers that were very popular in Europe some ten years ago: “Happiness is multiple pipelines.” Let the market decide what transportation routes serve European customers best. There are so many other ways, in which Europe can help Ukraine short of trying to kill Nord Stream 2!

45north: Mr. Kortunov, following the recent presidential elections in Russia and Mr. Vladimir Putin’s victory, what do you think will be the defining themes for Russian foreign policy towards Eastern and Central Europe, particularly Romania and Poland, for the next 6 years?

A.Kortunov: I can only express my personal viewpoint. In my opinion, both Poland and Romania deserve more attention from Russia that they now get. These are two important countries; I would even call them sub-regional leaders in the Baltic and in the Black Sea area respectively. The relations with both Warsaw and Bucharest are difficult, the legacy of history is complicated, but if there is political will, we can accomplish a lot together. Let me refer to the Russian-Polish rapprochement a couple of years ago as an example of positive changes after a deep crisis. Where there is will, there is the way. However, the political will should come from both sides.  

45north: In an interesting February 2016 analysis for the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies, you’ve said that the EU should grow from its status of a “political dwarf” into a “powerful wizard” that would wield significant geopolitical power. How would this newfound European strength and unity would interact with Russia’s own foreign policy and status as a regional power?

A.Kortunov:  I always believed that Russia would benefit from a stronger European Union more than from a weak one. A stronger EU is a more predictable political interlocutor, a more attractive market, a more significant provider of global commons. A stronger EU would less depend on the United States or on unexpected turns in domestic politics of individual member-states. Unfortunately, the growth from the status of a “political dwarf” into a “powerful wizard” is likely to be more complicated and will take more time than I expected only two years ago.

Source: 45north

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