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Igor Ivanov

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

The crisis has already provoked a spate of hostile rhetoric, complicated bilateral relations between Russia and the European Union and made it more difficult in the future for Brussels and Moscow to coordinate their actions with regard to Ukraine. And yet such coordination is not only desirable, but also absolutely necessary if we want to prevent further aggravation of the socio-economic – and perhaps political – situation in Ukraine.

On February 28, 2014, in Paris Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) President Igor Ivanov addressed the representatives of French public and business circles at an event organized by the Franco-Russian think tank l’Observatoire and the Concorde Fund.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me first of all to thank everyone present for your interest in Russia as a whole, and in its foreign policy in particular. I would also like to express my gratitude to the Franco–Russian analytical centre l’Observatoire and the Concorde Fund for organizing this meeting. It is pleasant that the meeting is taking place on Rue du Faubourg; the intellectual and cultural centre of the 20th century Russian emigrant community in Paris was just a few blocks from here. It was here that Feodor Chaliapin, Sergei Diaghilev and Grigory Pyatigorsky – people to whom we should all aspire – would meet and have heated discussions.

My years as a diplomat have taught me that speaking before French audience, and especially an audience of well-educated French individuals, is always a challenge. This is a highly qualified, demanding audience that will not stand for any kind of falsehood. I will try to be totally frank in expressing my personal views on the problems of global security, the present and future of our common European continent, and the prospects for the development of Franco-Russian relations. And I will then readily take your questions.

First, however, I would like to speak about an issue that is of great concern to everybody in Europe, and even beyond its borders. I am referring of course to the events in Ukraine. Let me make it clear from the start that in my brief speech I am not going to touch upon the internal causes of the crisis, the balance of political forces, the errors and miscalculations of the former Ukrainian leadership and the possible trajectory of the development of the political situation in Ukraine. This is a topic that merits a separate conversation and I do not claim to be an expert on Ukrainian affairs. I will confine myself to three questions that are pertinent to the current European politics. Could the tragedy of recent months in Kiev have been avoided? What do the events in Ukraine mean for European politics? And what lessons should we – Russia and the West – derive from the Ukrainian crisis?

We all remember that the crisis was triggered by the issue of the signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. The issue split Ukrainian society, brought the opposition to Kiev’s main square (Maidan) and led to an escalation of violence and political radicalism. While not questioning the inalienable right of the Ukrainian people to choose its path of national development, I would like to clarify what exactly is meant by ‘Ukraine’s European choice’.

First, Ukraine has been and remains a European state, which does not in any way impede the development of extensive links with the states in other regions: this is what everybody does in the era of globalization.

Second, the question of Ukraine’s membership in the European Union is not even on the long-term agenda: the European Union seems to have reached its geographical limit; at least this is what many people in France believe.

Third, the kind of financial support that that Central European countries once received from the European Union now belongs to the realm of fantasy, as there are simply no resources for that today. Some economic aid will of course come from the European Union, but it will not be able in the foreseeable future to ‘digest’ a country of 46 million people with a host of economic, social, infrastructural and other problems.

Fourth, if we speak about European values, Ukraine has long embraced them by becoming a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE. It is another matter that the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian society have by no means always been able to follow these values. But that has to do with the level of political culture and, if you like, the level of maturity of Ukraine’s political class. In general, values cannot depend on the existence or non-existence of an international treaty or agreement, they are formed in social consciousness over years and decades, while any external factors at best play the role of catalyst in the formation of the system of values.

Fifth, history and geography have ordained that Ukraine has been and will long remain a ‘divided’ state. One part of Ukrainian society looks to the West and the other part to the East. Some sectors of the country’s economy depend on European Union markets, while others depend on Russian markets. Therefore, to demand that Ukraine make ‘a final decision’ means not simply to demand the impossible, but also to provoke a political split, instability and even the threat of the physical breakup of the Ukrainian state.

If all the ‘external players’ had taken into account these evident truths at the early stages of the Ukrainian crisis, it would not have assumed such an acute form. Unfortunately, from the very outset the question of Ukrainian association was formulated as an all-or-nothing choice: Brussels or Moscow; the European Union or the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. In other words, it was always a classic ‘zero-sum’ game, just like during the worst times of the Cold War. I would not like to get into a discussion today about whether it was Brussels or Moscow that first put the dilemma of the Ukrainian choice this way, but the fact remains that last autumn the ‘external players’ – that is, you and us – not only failed to help prevent the imminent political crisis, but on the contrary, made a considerable contribution to aggravating it.

Yet, it is too soon to draw conclusions from the Ukrainian crisis. The death of dozens of people in the streets of Kiev is already too high a price to pay for any kind of political transformation. However, it is obvious that the consequences of the crisis may be long-term – not only for Ukraine, which is on the brink of an economic collapse, but for the relations between Eastern and Western Europe. The crisis has already provoked a spate of hostile rhetoric, complicated bilateral relations between Russia and the European Union and made it more difficult in the future for Brussels and Moscow to coordinate their actions with regard to Ukraine. And yet such coordination is not only desirable, but also absolutely necessary if we want to prevent further aggravation of the socio-economic – and perhaps political – situation in Ukraine.

In this regard, I would like to remind you of a fact of recent history.

Twenty years ago,  in early 1994, the presidents of Russia, the United States and Ukraine issued a Trilateral Statement that determined the future status of Ukraine as a non-nuclear state. In addition to the issues directly related to nuclear disarmament, the statement set the basic principles for relations between the three countries: respect for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of each partner. Russia and the United States undertook to not only “refrain from the threat or use of force” with regard to Ukraine, but also to “refrain from economic coercion” aimed at gaining one-sided advantages.

Many policymakers and experts hoped, with good reason, that such a major joint action in the nuclear field would give impetus to the formation of a fundamentally new Euro-Atlantic security system that would be indivisible and equal for all.

Unfortunately, over the past 20 years a new system of security has not been created and the norms and rules of the Cold War have proved to be extremely tenacious. Ukraine is one example.

Yes, the current crisis differs from the 1994 situation: it has a different character and different causes. But the threats to security – for Ukraine and for the surrounding countries – in the event of a further escalation of the crisis are probably no less serious than those of 20 years ago. Logic and common sense dictate that Russia, the European Union and the United States should act in concert, not only for the sake of humanism and compassion for the Ukrainian people, but also for the sake of their own national interests. It is not just the destiny of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people that are at stake here; we are talking about a shared belief in a better tomorrow.

It is very important to reach a new level of mutual understanding and international cooperation at this point in time when the process of restructuring the system of world politics and economics that began 25 years ago, after the end of the Cold War, has entered an active phase.

It is a feature of our times that the processes of globalization, the growing economic and social interdependence of countries and peoples paradoxically go hand-in-hand with an obvious decrease in the governability of the international system. The world in the early 21st century sees multiplying regional hotbeds of instability, the preservation of many rudiments of the Cold War, and the crumbling of the system of international law. The role of international organizations, including the United Nations, is often called into question; the global monetary system is increasingly volatile; the risks of unpredictable sharp changes in commodity markets are growing; and the threat of natural and manmade disasters is increasing.

As a result anti-globalism sentiments and nostalgia for the 20th century world are growing all over the planet, including our two countries. You often hear the opinion that by limiting participation in global processes, you can ward off the negative consequences of unpredictable fluctuations in the world economy and politics. Isolationism is passed off as patriotism, while helplessness in matters of world politics and economics is presented almost as a principled position. But isolationism has no future in the modern world. The net effect of this approach is that we will experience all the negative consequences of the globalization processes without actually being able to influence the processes themselves.

Similarly, you can hardly go along with the view that anyone – be it France or Russia – stands to gain anything if the international system becomes less manageable, contradictions between other power centres are exacerbated, regional conflicts appear and international organizations grow weaker. Some tactical benefits from this situation may be gained, but strategically the erosion of the world order, and the broadening of the zone of chaos and uncertainty in world politics, will be harmful for everyone, including our two countries.

Today we face the historical task of making the modern world governable again and building a new world order for decades to come. This truly monumental task is comparable in scale with the programme of reordering the world developed in the middle of the last century by the victors in the Second World War. But at the time, the new world order was primarily created to serve the interests of a small group of victorious states. The world order in the 21st century can be legitimate (and therefore effective) only if the work to create and maintain it involves the entire world community, rich countries and poor countries, the private sector and international organizations, the world expert community and civil society institutions.

What could the immediate priorities of that work be? Without claiming to present a full picture, I would like to indicate what I consider to be the most important areas of joint effort.

First, it is necessary to speed up work to overcome what still remains of the Cold War legacy – the hangover that is making it more difficult for us all to build a new system of international relations in the 21st century.

Second, it is necessary to bridge the gap between the tasks of security and those of development, between world politics and world economy.

Third, it is extremely important to review the basic norms and principles of international law and to find a delicate balance between the search for the new and preservation of existing traditions.

Fourth, there has emerged an urgent need to perfect the mechanisms of effective interaction between states, the private sector and civil society in addressing the common tasks facing humankind. The fundamental interests of the individual, business, the state and the international community are indivisible and they should be upheld together.

The awareness that the modern system of world politics and economics is indivisible is particularly important for Russia, which has for many centuries occupied a unique geographical and geopolitical position. It has always been fashionable in our country to talk about choosing the geography of our foreign policy priorities. These arguments resurface again and again at every turn in our history. Westernizers and Slavophiles. Atlanticists and Eurasians. Liberals and conservatives. Even today our country is in the midst of another debate as to what is more important and closer to Russia: Europe or Asia, the European Union or China, the developed world or BRICS.

There is no point in conducting such discussions today. The modern world does not fit into the traditional geographical framework; it is no longer possible to divide it into East and West, Europe and Asia. Geography ceases to be a factor that determines an economic system, or a person’s mode of life and professional opportunities. In this day and age it would perhaps be more helpful to divide countries not according to the geographical principle, but depending on how successfully (or unsuccessfully) they fit into modern global trends, how well they capitalize on their competitive advantages in the global world.

The generalizations and forecasts made on the basis of the old ‘geographical’ logic look even shakier. There is the widespread belief, for example, that Europe is experiencing a decline in the 21st century, while Asia is on the rise. Much is being said about the centre of world economic activities shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific, about ‘the European project’ having proved to be too cumbersome and difficult to implement, about Europe having turned out to be unprepared for globalization and therefore being  doomed to falling further and further behind Asia. Incidentally, such views are common in Russia.

It is hard to agree with such opinions. Of course Asia’s economic achievements over the past decades are obvious. But I would like to note that people have been talking about ‘the decline of Europe’ for at least one hundred years. And yet Europe still remains a top-league player in world economics, a global source of technological innovations and a huge social laboratory. Clearly, the potential of the ‘European project’ is far from exhausted. The pace of modernization of the Asian economies is impressive, but the processes of social and political modernization in the majority of Asian countries lag far behind economic modernization.

I do not want my words to be interpreted to mean that Europe is richer, more promising and interesting than Asia. Indeed, I am referring to the fact that in this fast-changing world, no one is guaranteed to have leading positions. Past experience, present wealth, and ambitious plans – nothing can guarantee success. That applies to individuals, countries and entire continents. The global world sets very tough requirements for all of us, the rules of the game are changing before our eyes and I would refrain from categorical judgements about the future economic and political role of various regions of the world.

And what about Russia? Can our country become an active and constructive player in the relations between the two parts of the Eurasian continent? The country’s future in many ways hinges on the answer to that question. I believe that Russia’s main foreign policy task is not to make up its mind as to whether it belongs to Europe or Asia. Our task is far more pragmatic – not to drop out of the emerging system of European-Asian cooperation, not to be sidelined from the integration processes unfolding in the vast spaces of the Eurasian continent in economics, science, education, culture and other spheres.

Unfortunately, the threat of being sidelined is very real. Russia is, of course, present in the Eurasian markets. Millions of Russian citizens travel to Europe and Asia on holiday, to work and study. Russia has been and will remain part of Eurasia geographically, historically and in terms of its culture and civilization. And yet Russia is predominantly a European country, even though it stretches far to the east to the shores of the Pacific and the borders with China and Korea. But you have to admit that Russia’s involvement in the mechanisms and processes of European cooperation today looks very limited and fragile. Russia is still for the most part the main European storehouse of natural resources, a source of raw materials and energy for its neighbours.  This situation creates problems – not only for our country, but also for the entire emerging European community, which is still deprived of the opportunity to use Russia as a fully fledged member.

Part of the responsibility for this state of affairs rests with Russia. We still have a long way to go to learn to be Europeans. Such knowledge does not come overnight. Even today, we do not always understand the logic of our partners; we do not pay due attention to the nuances of their domestic policies; and we overlook little-noticed but extremely important details that characterize the centuries-old European political culture. We often think that Europe does not treat Russia fairly, that our opinions and our interests are neglected and our initiatives constantly ignored.

On the other hand, our European partners are not without blame. Outside of the energy and commodity sector, very few of our European neighbours are prepared to launch massive joint projects with Russia. And the idea of involving Russia in the mechanisms of regional economic, scientific-technical and education cooperation is rarely met with understanding and support. I do not need to tell you how long it takes them to agree upon positions inside the European Union and how creaky the European bureaucracy is.

One often hears from our European colleagues: “Yes, Russia is a European country, but it is ‘a different Europe’, ‘not quite Europe’ and therefore its relations with ‘the rest of (real) Europe’ are bound to be complicated and contradictory.” They may have a point. But let us ask ourselves: has Russia been the only country that has had a complicated relationship with ‘the rest of Europe?’ Take Germany, for example. Just one hundred years ago many intellectuals to the west of the Rhine had serious doubts that Germany could rightly consider itself a truly European country. But it was Germany that became the engine of European integration during the second half of the last century.

For most of the 20th century, Russia was separated from the West of Europe by an ideological gulf. At that time, it was indeed hard to speak of Russia’s European destiny, although in the 20th century, Russia remained part of the common European civilization in the broad sense: even Marxism grew out of the European philosophical tradition. But today there is no Cold War and the systemic conflict between Russia and Europe is receding. Why do some still consider Russia’s belonging to Europe an open question?

Our European colleagues often tell us that it is all about the ‘value gap’. Russia and Europe, they say, have different fundamental values and this divergence erects insuperable obstacles in the way of strategic interaction and a stable partnership. I would take issue with that view. Of course, no one would deny the importance of fundamental values. But values are a complicated and often vague concept that defies pigeonholing. In Europe itself the debate about values has been going on for many decades, if not centuries. In France, for example, every time elections are held the question of what real ‘French values’ are crops up. This is probably natural for any modern society based on social diversity and pluralism of opinions. In Russia, the question of values is also the subject of sometimes very emotional and fierce debates. But does it mean that Russia cannot agree with Europe on strategic partnership?

For all the importance of values in the modern world, we should not forget the basic interests of societies, countries and whole regions of the world. Speaking about security, for example, you have to admit that, in spite of the current differences, our strategic interests are objectively the same. Talk with any responsible policymaker in Berlin, Brussels, Madrid or Moscow about the threats to Euro-Atlantic security and the global challenges today. The chances are that the assessments will be very similar. We think in the same categories and are worried about the same problems; the solutions we offer usually point in the same direction.

I do not want to simplify the matter – not all Russian and European Union priorities are exactly the same – at the very least because of the differences of geopolitical position, not all viewpoints can be reduced to a common denominator. But then even inside the European Union, unity on security priorities is not always achieved. What is more important though is that all of us, from the Atlantic to the Urals – or rather from Vancouver to Vladivostok – are united in one way or another by common threats and challenges. This is a reality that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, and it will predetermine our cooperation in matters of security.

I would permit myself to cite the international research project being conducted for the second year by the Russian International Affairs Council jointly with the European Leadership Network for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation (ELN) and the Polish Institute of International Relations (PISM). The aim of the project is to elaborate a road map for the development of Greater Europe by 2030, taking into account the new political, economic and security challenges. It places special emphasis on confidence measures between Russia and European states, and on overcoming the Cold War legacy. We have recently been joined by the leading Turkish think tank, the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

Just a month ago, we published a joint statement listing the urgent measures aimed at laying the foundations for the further building of Greater Europe. The document has been signed by major prominent politicians, leading experts, former political and military leaders and public figures from the European Union and Russia. By the way, it has been signed by several former ministers of the French Republic. Frankly speaking, the document was not universally welcomed in Russia; we faced scepticism and outright criticism. There are many sceptics and critics in Europe as well. But I am convinced that the very fact that a discussion on such an important issue is taking place is an achievement.

Some might say that it is not the best time for major new initiatives in Russian–European relations now, as both sides are preoccupied with their domestic affairs, and the European Union is getting ready for a change in political leadership in the coming months. Perhaps we should pause and take stock of the situation before resuming the dialogue? And that is a valid point. But I would like to stress once again that the forces that are pushing us towards each other are not the whim of this or that leader, it is not wishful thinking or political expediency. This is about fundamental changes in world development, changes that have a profound and long-term character. Miracles in world politics do not happen. It would be a profound delusion to expect better times to come, during which we will be able to agree on all the fundamental issues once and for all and put the long history of mutual complaints, grievances and misunderstandings behind us. No agreement can replace daily painstaking and consistent work. No ‘road map’ can by itself lead us to a bright future if we are not ready to follow the route charted.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but I have to stress one obvious fact: we who live on the European continent do not have much time to demonstrate that we are competitive in the global world of the 21st century. Other countries and peoples, other regions and continents will not wait until we sort out our mutual grudges and suspicions, overcome old prejudices and put an end to our differences. The world will march forward and the pace of change will increase. The number of states aspiring to world leadership will also grow, and they will not be in Europe. Acting together, complementing each other, Russia and Europe will have a better chance to not find themselves among the losers in the global race. We must prevent the 21st century from becoming the age that sees the gloomy prophecies about the end of our common civilization come true.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about the relations between France and Russia. Considering my audience today, there is probably no need to dwell on the history of our countries’ relations or sum up the results of our interaction in various spheres. I would just like to say that for a number of decades in the 20th century, relations between Moscow and Paris were pivotal to European politics. European politics has of course changed substantially since then; things are more complicated now, new participants have been brought into the fold and politics itself has spread to new spheres. But that need not diminish the weight of our two countries in European affairs. If Franco–Russian relations are to preserve their special role in European affairs, we should first of all preserve the ability to think strategically, to seek new opportunities and new formats for their implementation. We should be ready to make big decisions and at the same time not lose sight of specific details and everyday problems.

Please do not take this as self-promotion, but I would like to say a few words the latest report prepared by the Russian International Affairs Council and the Franco–Russian analytical centre l’Observatoire last autumn. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank the director of l’Observatoire centre, Arnaud Dubien, who devoted so much time and energy to preparing the document. Its title, “Russia and France: 20 Proposals for Long-Term Partnership,” speaks for itself. We have tried to sum up the practical steps in the development of our relations that could be taken in the near future.

Several principles guided us during the preparation of these proposals. First, we thought it was important to proceed from the  real state of Franco–Russian relations without being unduly pessimistic, but not glossing over things and closing our eyes to the existing problems either. Second, we assumed that all the dimensions in our relations – military-strategic, economic and humanitarian – are equally important and that we should not focus on any one aspect of Franco–Russian interaction while downgrading or ignoring other aspects. Third, we sought to highlight those proposals whose implementation would not entail significant political costs for one of the sides.

I hope that you will find time to familiarize yourselves with the “20 Proposals”; we would welcome any observations, comments and critical remarks on the part of all those who care about the future of our relations.

Thank you.

Translated from the Russian.

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