Washington, the European Union’s main ally, has in recent years earned the reputation of a country that creates rather than solves problems. But the EU can now normalise and restore recently broken relations with Russia, which has been and will remain an inseparable part of Europe, writes Anvar Azimov.
Anvar Azimov is the Russian ambassador to Croatia. This open letter was first published on EURACTIV.hr after Croatia assumed the presidency of the Council of the EU.
Taking the presidency of the Council, Croatia has assumed a very responsible duty during this turbulent time. The EU’s tasks today are quite complex, from strengthening competitiveness in the fight for the world markets, stimulating energy-climate transition, tackling instability in the Middle East, which could cause new “migration waves” but also greatly disrupt European security, all the way to a complicated situation in Ukraine.
The additional internal problems plaguing the EU – the crisis of the euro, Brexit, the decline in quality of life and the extinction of the middle class, one of the most important pillars of the economy – contribute to addressing these challenges.
In such circumstances, any outside help can play a decisive role. Unfortunately, the European Union’s main ally, the United States of America, has in recent years earned the reputation of a country that creates rather than solves problems.
US interference in the situation in Libya and Syria has led to the destabilisation of the entire Middle East region, and a wave of refugees has engulfed Europe. During the US presence in Afghanistan, it did not strengthen stability in that country while opium production increased several dozen times.
US sanctions against Iran have forced the EU to consider options for de-dollarising its foreign trade and creating an alternative payment system. When it comes to NATO, Washington is asking its European allies to increase defence spending so they can buy more expensive US weapons. Also, the US is no stranger to eavesdropping on European leaders.
At the same time, the EU now can normalise and restore recently broken relations with Russia. Moscow and Brussels remain important trade and economic partners and largest neighbours, capable of independently bearing a shared responsibility for peace, prosperity and security in this part of Eurasia.
Moscow’s successful experience in the Middle East has strengthened Russia’s reputation as a country capable of solving even the most complicated problems. Geographically, historically, economically and culturally, Russia has been, is, and will remain an inseparable part of Europe.
Beginning in 1989, Moscow and Brussels worked on long-term projects that, if realised, should bring tangible benefits to all residents of the European continent.
They talked about facilitating mutual travel conditions, establishing cooperation in the fight against terrorism and organized crime, coordinating efforts to regulate regional conflicts, forming an energy union and more. Unfortunately, this partnership has not evolved over the years, which is a great pity.
One of the reasons is the West’s unwillingness to cooperate with Russia on an equal level. The entire history of Western Europe’s foreign policy after the end of the Cold War has been about disrespecting the rights and interests of the weaker and more dependent.
Croatia has experienced it first-hand. However, unlike the small and medium-sized European countries, the EU factor was not so crucial for Russia.
Moscow needed European technologies, investments and even loans. Europe, on the other hand, offered Russia only and exclusively a vassal-senior relationship, which resulted in worsening of the relations.
Besides, the EU has for years worked to separate Russia from its closest neighbours, with whom it has been linked for centuries, forcing those countries to choose between the EU and Russia, which ultimately led to tragedy in Ukraine.
The situation in Ukraine has also resulted in sanctions that the EU imposed on Russia, which, according to Western experts, consequentially created a loss of at least €50 billion a year – not counting the loss of several thousand jobs.
If the sanctions had not been imposed, trade between Russia and the EU could reach $500 billion, comparable to the volume of trade that the EU has with the US or China. The escalation of hysteria over the so-called Russian threat has led to an increase in the annual spending of European countries on defence for tens of billions of euros that could have been used on schools, hospitals, economic support.
Using fabricated reasons, the US is pushing Europe to buy more expensive American liquefied gas (LNG) instead of cheaper Russian gas, which inevitably increases the purchase price of all European products and reduces their competitiveness in the market.
EU confrontations with Russia often lead to absurdities, and the example of this is the technological underdevelopment of the Polish railway, which creates an obstacle to the development of transport-logistical cooperation between the EU and China. The Polish leadership is still not ready to enter the project because it requires cooperation with Russia.
But more and more Russian partners are realising the abnormality of this situation. They consider Ukraine as the primary obstacle to the normalization of relations.
The problem is that preserving instability in the Donbas is of benefit to Ukrainian nationalists because they see that sanctions punish Moscow, not Kyiv, even though we are not a party in the conflict and not even mentioned in the Minsk Agreement.
Using the Ukrainian crisis, the individual countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States want to involve the United States in the arms race in the region and strengthen their role on the international scene.
The return of Donbas into the Ukrainian system under the Minsk Agreement is not desirable in Washington either because part of the US elite uses that to pressure Russia and control Kyiv, but also to influence Europe. Ultimately, the US military industry is also making a profit if the situation is developing in that direction.
The EU’s position regarding Crimea is not at all logical. If it was “aggression” and the whole population of the territory were “victims of annexation”, why did Brussels de facto forbid them from visiting EU countries, refuse to recognise Russian passports issued in Crimea, impose restrictions on business and limit contacts with the peninsula, as well as flights and use of seaports_
The EU has completely ignored the fact that the Ukrainian leadership has cut the supply of elementary resources to the people of Crimea: drinking water, electricity, food.
It should be noted that in recent months there have been some developments regarding the Donbas. It is not the result of EU sanctions, but changes in Ukraine’s leadership.
What former President Petro Poroshenko has sabotaged over the past five years, the incumbent president has been able to partially accomplish over several months. Progress on the Donbas is also recognised in Brussels.
This year allows resuming active diplomatic dialogue between Europe and Russia, as well as to restore normal political and trade-economic ties.
In this regard, Croatia, as a country currently holding the EU Council Presidency, has a unique opportunity to invite other EU member states to improve their bilateral relations with Russia.
For the survival in this modern, turbulent world, cooperation between countries is extremely important. It depends on Europe whether cooperation will be on a partner basis or not.
We sincerely hope that Zagreb will make the first concrete steps on the path of normalisation and development of these relations. We are counting on it. Improving our cooperation is as necessary as ever and historically inevitable.