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Igor Ivanov

President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004)

In my brief presentation, I would like to share some of my ideas regarding the current state of relations between Russia and Europe, as well as regarding the likely future of this relationship.

January 28th, 2016 

 

Dear Mr. Ghizzoni,

Dear President Prodi,

Dear Mr. Scognamiglio,

Esteemed colleagues,

I am deeply honored to participate to the meeting of the International Advisory Board of UniCredit, which is one of the largest and the most respected European financial institutions. Today the modern world is going through a complicated and dramatic transition, full of problems, risks and challenges. I believe that this transition makes a constructive international dialogue – especially between experienced politicians and private sector executives – particularly important and timely.

In my brief presentation, I would like to share some of my ideas regarding the current state of relations between Russia and Europe, as well as regarding the likely future of this relationship.  

Let me start with one sober observation. I am deeply convinced that the relations between Russia and Europe will never get back to where they were before the Ukrainian crisis of 2014. This crisis marked the end of the quarter of century long period, a whole era full of hopes, ambitions, frustrations and disappointments.

After the end of the Cold War, many in Russia and in Europe – myself including – were under a strong emotional impact of the dramatic changes on our continent. We sincerely believed that within a historically brief period we would be able to overcome the heavy legacy of the past and to start jointly building a new Greater Europe. A Europe without dividing lines. A Europe that would become a continent of security and prosperity for all the Europeans. A Europe that best intellectuals in the East and the West had been dreaming of for so many years.

 To meet this goal, we were working very hard. Many innovative ideas and bold proposals were brought to the table. Let me refer, for example, to a well-known initiative of President Prodi about the four common European spaces. If this initiative had been implemented, it would have changed the European continent in a very radical way.    

Back in 2010 after a Russian-French-German summit meeting President Sarkozy stated that in 10 – 15 years Russia and Europe would become a common economic end security space – with no visa regime and a very intensive policy coordination. President Putin during his election campaign of 2012 also spoke about a common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

These ideas seemed very practical and realistic only a couple years ago. But now they look as if they belong to very old, old times. 

Having said that, I would not like to downplay or to discard in any way all the significant accomplishments we have been able to achieve in various areas of cooperation – in business, in education and research, in human contacts and civil society cooperation. However, as the recent events showed us, all these accomplishments turned out to be insufficient to prevent a deep crisis. We failed to build a solid political foundation for our relations - a foundation that would allow us to become true and reliable partners in the modern volatile world.   

Such a partnership has not emerged. Ant today it is highly unlikely that it could emerge in any near future.

So, who is to blame for this historic failure? The easiest answer to this question would be to put all the blame on Vladimir Putin, as many politicians in the West do these days.

However, the simplest answer is not always the right answer. I am afraid that the roots of our problems are much deeper than decisions of one person. These problems, in my opinion, reflect profound disagreements about the very foundations of the desirable Russian – European relations. I would venture to say that even if there were a new President in the Kremlin in 2018, the Russia’s relations with the European Union as well as with the United States would still be saturated with numerous problems and disagreements.

The fact is that Europe and Russia have always had very different  perceptions on how their cooperation should proceed. In the European Union, they often consider their institutions, procedures, traditions and values to be by definition the most appropriate, efficient and natural for everybody – not only for EU member states or for aspiring members. The assumption is that Russia should fully subscribe to EU standards and fully abide by the EU rules, like many Central European and East European nations did before. However, due to its history, culture and geography Russia cannot dress itself into European clothing, even if this clothing is crafted by Brioni.   

Therefore, it seems likely that over next couple of years and maybe even decades we will witness two parallel processes on our continent: further strengthening of the Euro-Atlantic cooperation between the European Union, the United States and Canada and, at the same time, emerging Eurasian integration mechanisms with an active Russian involvement.

 These two processes should not necessarily be hostile to each other. If both sides demonstrate enough of political will and wisdom, the two integration projects can become mutually complimentary with a lot of potential for connectivity.

How the Russian-European relations could evolve in this new environment? 

 First, our European friends and partners should recognize that they cannot impose on Russia their principles, norms and values as a precondition for a broad cooperation in various fields. In the modern world, neither Russia can impose anything on Europe, nor can Europe impose anything on Russia. If a gradual reconciliation between the two sides is possible, this reconciliation will be a long process based on mutual compromises and concessions.

Of course, discussions and disputes between Russia and Europe on these fundamental questions will continue. And such discussions will be mutually beneficial. Nevertheless, they should not close the door for cooperation in the fields, where the two sides have very specific common interests. These fields are in plenty. Let me mention only some of them:

- Fighting against international terrorism and other forms of extremism. Cooperation in this area is already underway, but its scale so far falls short of the magnitude of the challenge.

- Managing problems of migrations and refuges. I am convinced that working together on these burning matters, we can achieve much more than dealing with them separately.

- Creating favorable conditions for long-term trans-continental economic projects linking the Euro-Atlantic and the Eurasian spaces.

 - Engaging into ambitions multilateral fundamental and applied research projects.

In all of these areas we could explore the format proposed some time ago by President Prodi – gradually building common spaces or common regimes that should serve as legal and organizational platforms for growing cooperation.

Speaking of the economic cooperation, I would put special emphasis on the opportunities for linking integration plans in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions.   Here one can find many a lot of potential not limited to only transportation and logistics. I this regard, I would consider important and timely to establish direct contacts between the European Union on the one side, and the Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on the other. 

In terms of closing let me allow myself one more comment.

In Washington and subsequently in a number of European capitals they have launched a policy of isolating Russia. It seems that somebody has decided that sanctions against Moscow could lead to a change in the Russian leadership and in the Russian foreign policy. As you can see now, the effect of the sanctions turned out to be quite opposite to these expectations. Indeed, this outcome was easy to predict, if one bothers to study contemporary history.

But who has gained from the elimination of G8, from the freeze of the Russia-NATO Council, from the current absence of a dialogue between executive bodies of Russia and the European Union? I think that there are no winners in this game – both sides are losers.

Thus, the earlier we start restoring channels of communication between Moscow and Brussels, the sooner we can explore opportunities for cooperation.     

 Thank you for your attention.

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Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
 
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