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Alexander Grushko

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation, RIAC Member

Speech at the 11th Meeting in the “EU-Russia” Series held by the Russian International Affairs Council and the Embassies of the Chair Countries of the Council of the European Union

Speech at the 11th Meeting in the “EU-Russia” Series held by the Russian International Affairs Council and the Embassies of the Chair Countries of the Council of the European Union

Dear colleagues,

1. It is a great pleasure to have this conference organized together with our Slovenian colleagues who are now presiding over the EU Council. It is not an easy task, especially for a not big EU Member State. However size does not mean everything. We remember fondly the efficiently-managed Slovenian OSCE Chairmanship back in 2005 that left a lasting positive mark on the Organisation. The head of the Slovenian mission in Vienna at the time is currently EU Commissioner Janez Lenarcic. Let me wish you all the success for the remaining time of your Presidency.

It has always been easy for Russia and Slovenia to understand each other. And it is not only that our languages are similar. We have common Slavic roots, culture and traditions. Our cooperation has always been constructive and fruitful. Our dialogue—open and sincere. We have intensive political contacts, regular exchange of views which allows us to coordinate our positions on a number of bilateral and international issues.

We are on the same page when we speak about strengthening European security, countering common threats and challenges, fostering dialogue and pragmatic cooperation between Russia and the rest of Europe. An important element of Russian-Slovenian relations is a mutual respect of common history.

2. Unfortunately Russia-EU relations are evolving along a very different—and difficult—trajectory. Since 2014 the EU’s full-fledged cooperation with Russia has been curtailed. Prospects for normalizing relations are linked to the fulfillment by Russia of the EU’s unilaterally determined conditions, which include the implementation of Minsk agreements, openly sabotaged by Kiev. A group of EU Member States continue to spread ungrounded messages regarding my country
in order to exploit the myth of an external threat for internal reasons.

A new formula has been devised by the EU recently. It calls for the EU to “push back, constrain and engage Russia in areas of EU interest”. This is, to put it bluntly, a kind of a Bermuda triangle. In these treacherous waters any constructive initiatives are doomed to run aground and sink. Hardly the best scenario for the current European security equation.

3. Globally Russia and the countries of the European Union are being overwhelmed by poly-crises, ranging from pandemics and migration to climate change. The scale and complexity of these security-related challenges is mounting at an alarming rate.

Being closest neighbors, Russia and the EU are natural partners to tackle these challenges together. We bear a special responsibility for the security of our common European continent. We are united by centuries-old history, culture, thousands of family and humanitarian ties. Energy interdependence serves to unite our economic potentials. European business operates comfortably in the Russian market, remaining one of the main sources of foreign direct investment into our economy. Our mutual trade peaked at $417 billion in 2013, and was a global factor since it was comparable to EU-US ($555 billion in 2020) and EU-China ($586 billion in 2020) trade.

4. In 2020 Russia-EU trade was $192 billion, which is more than twice lower than its record level in 2013. There are several factors for that. One is hopefully temporary—the negative effect of the pandemic. Another is market dynamics—the fluctuating prices for oil and gas, which are Russia’s top export goods to the EU. The third factor—localization and import substitution as well as Russian business turning East, following the global economic shift to Asia; accelerated by EU’s arbitrary sanctions. This year we expect bilateral trade with the EU to increase—driven by economic recovery after the lockdowns and the surge in energy prices.

At the same time we witness evident pressure on Europe to engage in containing China. It is not an easy task bearing in mind that Beijing is now the EU’s biggest trading partner, overtaking the U.S. in 2020. This is likely to result in the European Union gradually losing its position as a global competitive actor. In 1960 it accounted for 36,3% of global GDP, in 2020 this proportion declined to 22,4%, while in 2100 it is expected to fall to 9,9%. It’s also important to take into account new trend of military planning.

5. We see scenarios when Europeans are intimidated with wild stories of a combined Sino-Russian threat. The strengthening of EU-NATO link puts at risk the neutral status of all the non-aligned non-NATO EU Member-States as well as keeps lowering the EU’s autonomy in military decision-making. The EU-NATO “military mobility” project, for instance, is intended to expedite relocation of NATO-standardized military vehicles and equipment across Europe, turning its soil into an expendable conventional military theater. This begs the question whether the Europeans are ready to pay the price for the projects that are leading to the militarisation of international affairs and putting all of them at risk of becoming a primal part of a warfare?

6. The demonization of Russia to justify rising defense expenditures and military planning is creating dangerous narratives. Western think-tankers are producing scenarios, where Russia invades the Baltic states through the legendary “Suwalki gap” and even conducts limited nuclear strikes (“escalate to deescalate” strategy). This nonsense is simply dangerous. It makes it more likely that the military build-up against an imagined “threat from the East” gets traction and becomes irreversible. This negative trend in security will affect Russia-EU relations.

7. Moreover the idea of a “Russian threat” at some point will make it more and more difficult for us to cooperate on common issues, creating additional dividing lines in areas which require a concerted approach. In short, it is a cul-de-sac.

8. What we need instead is a pragmatic, frank dialogue and interaction focused on down-to-earth, specific and realistic goals—for example, on measures to de-escalate tensions and reduce military risks. Working together on new agenda (climate change, digitalization, cooperation on health issues). Avoiding direct protective measures masked in environmental disguise—like the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, or simply—the carbon tax. Developing coordinated or compromise solutions of mounting global and regional problems. Our political dialogue recently intensified with more than 10 communication lines.

In this context, the role of academia, including the RIAC, is of particular importance. Such platforms for dialogue have confirmed their relevance and usefulness for a frank exchange of views on the situation in Europe. The importance of open discussions on "hot" issues of European security can hardly be overestimated.

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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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