EPP leader: Vilnius is a turning point in EU-Russia relations

By deterring Ukraine from associating with the EU, Russia has broken at least two major international agreements. Consequently, the EU should become more assertive towards Moscow, EPP Vice President Jacek Saryusz-Wolski told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski is the vice-president of the European People's Party, president of the EPP Group in Euronest and member of the European Parliament from Poland.

He spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.

We speak as you are about to chair the European People’s Party pre-summit ahead of the Eastern Partnership in Vilnius. Russia is very much on the top of the agenda…

Russia has played a very negative role trying to deter [countries members of the Eastern Partnership] from the Union. It has entered in collision course with the EU. The EU has to draw consequences from that. And it will have consequences, and we have to agree how to live with this new reality – Russia hostile to this project.

Which is quite new, in the sense of so open demonstration by Russia. It will probably mean for the EU side the necessity to make stronger positions on its side, to be more assertive on the Eastern Partnership. And also to be more direct and straightforward in terms of its policy toward Russia.

So no more business as usual with Russia? Does it mean that the next EU-Russia summit will be different, maybe postponed?

I think Vilnius is a moment for change of the paradigm of relations between the Union and Russia. For long those relations were not easy, sometimes very difficult. But they were put on some fundamental assumptions that both sides want to solve those issues and work together.

And for the first time we’re in a situation where there is a kind of confrontation and where there is something in contradiction with two fundamental international relations principles and facts.

First, deterring those countries from their free and sovereign choice to associate with whoever they want, is contradicting the [1975] Helsinki final act. And as such is unacceptable. Unacceptable!

The second: if we take the case of Ukraine, it is in contradiction with the 1994 memorandum on nuclear disarmament, where everybody, including Russia, gave guarantees to Ukraine there will be no economical, political, whatsoever coercion. So Ukraine gave up nuclear arms, and their potential was as big as France, Britain and China together. And a promise was given that [Ukraine] would not be put in such a pressure under which they [now] are. So Russia is violating the Helsinki final act, and the [1994] memorandum, let’s not forget, still binding.

And this is also unacceptable. So our action will go in the direction of putting things back to normal, which means Russia should not blackmail or sanction those countries and [it should] allow them to make their sovereign choices, whatever they are.

We do respect the choice made by Armenia [to abandon EU association and opt for Russia’s Custom’s Union], although we profoundly regret it. At the same time we know it was done under Russian pressure, whatever Yerevan says.

So it is about fundamentals, it is about the order and type of relationships which will be built in Europe with the EU neighbours which by the way are covered by the article 49 of the EU treaties, which means that they are eligible for EU membership, although the EU is not giving this promise. But the aspirations of the societies have to be respected and their sovereign choices too.

It’s a very tough position. Do you think it can be shared on the table where 28 countries it?

It is never easy and never everybody agrees on everything in the EU politics and especially in foreign policy where we have to have a consensus. But the climate changes. Let me indicate the very significant statements made by German Chancellor [Angela] Merkel in the Bundestag and just one day before the Eastern Partnership summit. And also those who are not that committed or not that enthusiastic, or not simply not geographically close to this part of Europe: they start realizing the seriousness of the situation. So there’s time for persuasion, there’s time for rethinking the situation, and there is time to elaborate a common position.

So we are at a turning point of relations. Russia behaves according to its conception of interests, but within that paradigm, it behaves rationally. Russia has to feel that it doesn’t pay off to do what it did, what it does now. 

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