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On March 24, 2016 the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) together with the EU Delegation in Russia and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Moscow held a seminar, during which European and Russian diplomats and experts discussed the prospects for relations between Russia and the European Union (EU). The European side was represented by ambassadors of about a dozen EU countries, and the heads of diplomatic missions of the Netherlands, Finland, Great Britain, Denmark, Greece, and Luxembourg made their statements. The Russian participants included, among others, Andrey Kelin, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of European Cooperation, RIAC members and experts, representatives of relevant organizations.

The Five Principles of Russia-EU relations, adopted in Brussels, have been met in Moscow with a critical eye. “However, we must remember that this is only a product of the European Consensus, and new meetings of experts and diplomats can give the “five principles” positive substance,” said Igor Ivanov, RIAC President and Former Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, at the opening of a Russian-European Seminar in Moscow.

On March 24, 2016 the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) together with the EU Delegation in Russia and the Embassy of the Netherlands in Moscow held a seminar, during which European and Russian diplomats and experts discussed the prospects for relations between Russia and the European Union (EU). The Netherlands holds European Council Presidency in the first half of 2016.

The European side was represented by ambassadors of about a dozen EU countries, among them the heads of diplomatic missions of the Netherlands, Finland, Great Britain, Denmark, Greece, and Luxembourg. The Russian participants included Russian Foreign Ministry’s as well as relevant agencies’ representatives, RIAC members and experts.

At the three sessions of the Seminar the participants discussed the key developments in bilateral relations over the past six months and exchanged ideas on cooperation in the field of education and science as one of the most promising areas of cooperation.

The diplomats noted that Russia and the EU share common interests in the fight against terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, as well as in the field of migration management. Furthermore, the European representatives emphasized the positive dynamics of the Syrian and Iranian settlement. New challenges and threats require united efforts of the international community. Unfortunately, deep disagreements that have been predominant in the EU-Russia relations in the past years impede more efficient cooperation.

All the participants agreed that it is necessary to accumulate a positive relationship baggage to restore the lost confidence.

 “Cooperation in the field of education, science and innovation is developing very actively. However, this is not yet enough to reverse the negative trends in Russian-European relations," said Vygaudas Usackas, Head of the EU Delegation to Russia.”

The meeting was the third in a series of “embassy” seminars, attended by ambassadors and diplomats of the EU countries, as well as Russian experts, representatives of different ministries and agencies. These seminars are held jointly with the EU Delegation in Russia, and the Embassy of the country presiding in the EU Council. Previously, such meetings were held in cooperation with the Embassies of Latvia and Luxembourg.

Igor Ivanov's Speech

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends!

It is my pleasure to welcome all of you at the Russian International Affairs Council. I am happy to see here many of our long-term partners from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, other Russian governmental agencies, foreign Embassies, Russian Universities and independent research centers.

Before getting down to the agenda of our meeting, let me say that all of us feel deeply saddened by the news of heavy casualties and injuries resulted from recent explosions in Brussels. I believe that everybody in Russia is extremely outraged by this horrible tragedy. We resolutely condemn all manifestations of terror and fully support the fight against terrorism. On the occasion of this tragedy, I extend my deep personal condolences and that of all the RIAC members to our Belgian fiends, the families and the loved ones of victims and wish a speedy recovery to those injured. I also think that the tragedy in Brussels highlighted that fact that Russia and Europe have common fundamental security challenges that we should work on together despite any disagreements and conflicts of interests that we may have on other issues. 

Today we are going to address a very important and always very controversial subject – the current state and the future of relations between Russia and the European Union under the Presidency of the Netherlands. As many of you probably remember, such discussions have become a good tradition for our Council. Back in 2014, together with the Italian Embassy in Moscow, we had the first very franc and open dialogue in Rome. Last year the Russian Council was privileged to organize similar Russian – EU discussions in cooperation with the Embassies of Latvia and Luxemburg.  

We are very pleased that the Embassy of the Netherlands has agreed to continue this chain of meetings. ”. Let me extend my thanks to Ron van Dartel, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Russian Federation. Without his personal commitment and without hard work of the Netherlands Embassy, this event would not be possible. Let me also express our gratitude to the European Delegation to Russia and personally to Ambassador Vygaudas Ušackas for his commitment and his continuous support to and enthusiasm for the second track dialogue between Russia and the European Union.

Exactly ten days ago, after a meeting of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council, High Representative Federica Mogherini held a press conference where she outlined five principles of the new Union’s policy toward Russia. She specifically noted that the discussion within the Council regarding Russia had not been a difficult one since all the EU member states had demonstrated their unity and had expressed common views on this important matter. 

How we in Russia should react to the five principles? Of course, the first impulse would be to take a critical view of the EU position. Russian critics argue that the bottom line of the EU position is the strategy of a political and economic containment of Russia, that the principles offer a very imbalanced mixture of ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’, that the position of the EU Foreign Affairs Council appears to be the lowest common denominator reflecting the views of the most anti-Russia minded member states. On the other hand, serious Russian experts understand that under the circumstances the language of the principles is relatively mild and that a lot will depend on the future interpretation and practical implementation of these rather general guidelines.          

In any case, the announcement of the ‘five principles’ is positive at least as an attempt to bring some clarity and predictability into a very emotional, murky and ambitious dialogue between Moscow and Brussels since the eruption of Ukrainian crisis in fall of 2013. The principles, no matter how trivial and/or general they might look, could provide both sides with a certain frame, defining what is likely or unlikely to happen in these uneasy relations in years to come. If is up to us all - diplomats, scholars and experts on both sides - to fill the five principles with the real substance. I hope that our meeting today will make a modest, but not an insignificant contribution into looking for a positive agenda in the EU – Russia relations. 

As you can see from the suggested agenda, we divided our discussion into two parts. The first session is focused on the overview of the developments in the Russia – EU relations in the last six months. This half of year was filled with many dramatic events ranging from elections in a number of European states to a   new wave of international terrorism targeting all our countries. I think that it is important to compare our notes on the overall trends that are shaping our relationship.

The second and the third sessions are devoted to the Russian-EU cooperation in higher education and in science. These are the areas where we accomplished a lot over last twenty years. There are many success stories of joint projects, University partnerships, academic and educational mobility that we can bring to the table. It is important to preserve our common accomplishments and the spirit of this cooperation.

But this is not enough, in my view. We should also reflect on how cooperation in education and research could become a catalyst for positive changes in other areas of relations between Moscow and Brussels. How could students, professors, scholars and scientists on both sides assist politicians in overcoming the current crisis?   I do hope that the seminar that we have today will touch upon these important and very timely questions. I am sure that we can generate innovative, out of the box ideas and proposals for Moscow and for Brussels

I am looking forward to a very frank, open and inspiring discussion.          

Seminar “Russia-EU Relations in the Period of the Netherlands Presidency of the Council of the European Union”

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