ECFR Warsaw at its premises in Warsaw, jointly with the Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding (CPRDIP), held a conference entitled “EU-Russia Relations – Where Do We Go From Here?” on April 2-3, 2014. There are following conclusions of seminars and the public debate, which was the main event of the conference, in order of their appearance on the conference agenda:
EU-Russia relations in dire straits: domestic and geopolitical sources
Chair: Kadri Liik
Introductory remarks: Nikolay Petrov, Marie Mendras, Leszek Jesień
Prof. Rotfeld gave a short speech in which he underlined that the fundamental concept of borders agreement in Eastern-Western relations has been violated which is the main threat today. The values upon which both sides agreed were just a façade for Russia to fulfil its own goals. For Russia there are no values but mighty force.
Putin's politics is now reactionary – the decision was already taken in Vilnius in November. He also added that the growth of social forces both in Ukraine and in Russia itself mean that Putin acts not only for the sake of territorial stability but also tries to counteract the scenarios of their further development in his own country.
On the EU position, it was said that EU now needs a sustainable relationship with USA and to enforce sanctions on individuals. The vulnerability of EU – Russia relations such as gas import needs to be constantly reduced – moving away from Russian gas will be painful and sounds terrifying, but is something that can be done.
Putin places himself in a position of an outcast. He builds an aura of being the man of peace and order, but what he does is in fact a constant provocation. All efforts must be made to stop Russian propaganda within European countries.
In Russia there is a phenomenon of “collective Putin” – the regime is not only about one person, but also about a group of stakeholders who will go down with Putin if tackled financially. Next replacement of the elites will have a form of a revolution – regional interests of different groups (ethnic, religious, national, etc.) are not represented in Russia at all and this will be the main hot spot.
EU and Russia: ultimately parting ways?
Chair: Ernest Wyciszkiewicz
Introductory remarks: James Sherr, Kadri Liik, Ulrich Speck, Anton Barbashin
From this point, in terms of relations with Russia, return to „business as usual” is not an option for the EU. However, it does not mean that more strategic and thoughtful approach will be undertaken. Putin has always played a high risk game and what is more, he knows that the Western culture is low risk-oriented.
We cannot fall for the Russian rhetoric of regional interests and spheres of influence. Independent nations are the only ones to decide whether they want to be in NATO or not. If we perceive Ukraine as an independent state we cannot keep it in a grey zone between Russia and NATO. Current course of action and both Russian and European politics towards Ukraine are something that will shape Ukrainian “psyche” for decades.
As for the German politics towards Putin, it has been said that Angela Merkel has evaluated from the position of conciliation to readiness for confrontation. Yet, the German public opinion is reluctant to confront Russia.
Furthermore, it seems that there is a common understanding in Russia that the EU is not able to act together effectively in international matters. Cutting the economic demand for Russian gas will change this perception. On the other hand, the member states could also work at the national level instead of holding the EU as a whole or NATO responsible for action.
EU-Russia relations – Where Do We Go From Here?
The following experts took part in the open public debate: Adam Eberhardt, Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), Warsaw; Marie Mendras, Sciences Po University, Paris, & Associate Fellow at Chatham House, London; James Sherr – Chatham House, London; Sergey Utkin, Centre for Situation Analysis, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow. The panel was chaired by Sławomir Dębski – CPRDIP, Warsaw.
Sergey Utkin stated that Russia uses a language dictated by its imperialistic drive which appeared already in the past. The argument that Sevastopol is Russian is not new. The conflict over Crimea is a catastrophe for EU, Ukraine as well as for Russia. According to Mr. Utkin Moscow elites think they know better the complexity and mentality of Ukraine than the West. Utkin argued that the solution to the conflict is not about the institutional format of negotiations with Russia (the EU vs. multilateral approach) but is about the confident counteraction. As for the Eastern partnership, Mr. Utkin emphasized the insufficient economic aid to the countries with which EU wants to cooperate closer. Boosting EaP countries' economies will help to spread democracy under EU mentorship.
James Sherr agreed that Russia uses an aggressive language. The “Russian compatriots” argument for foreign interventions has been used for a long time. He added that Russia is a rival to the EU in terms of values. The conflict is still very dynamic, but we should focus on change of patterns that rule the conflict dynamics. Therefore, we need to confront Russia with a failure. In our interest we need to deny Russia's strategic goal by reviving Ukrainina democracy, becoming more independent in terms of energy supplies (South Stream expansion should be blocked) and reviving NATO. In the opinion of Mr. Sherr, Poland underestimates its role, and should take a more active approach, especially as being an example of reinforcement and modernization of a national army -a reform which some European countries would like to avoid.
Adam Eberhardt explained that the conflict is a challenge for EU's cohesion, and that action is needed instead of measures limited to pure advocacy efforts. We should help Ukraine financially to get out of Putin's trap. Russia ruined its reputation in the West and in Ukraine, and this marks an end of a certain paradigm of EU-Russia relations. Any deal with Russia today should end with the acceptance of Russia's sphere of exclusive interests in post-Soviet republics.
Marie Mendras criticized wishy washy European policy towards Russia. Kremlin's policies contributed to the emergence of 'frozen' states like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia between Russia and EU which neither belong to the West nor to the East. She added also that Russia is built on strong clans and weak institutions, and that there are 3 key lessons of Euromaidan: independent Ukraine exists; there will be no EU-Russia relations without states in-between; Putin struggles for political survival by maintaining the staus quo. We need to: 1) make sure that we will counteract powerful Russian anti-Euromaidan propaganda in Western media, 2) continue the peaceful change in Ukraine, 3) ensure that the presidential election in May will be fair.
Slawomir Debski concluded that we should bear in mind that Euromaidan revolution is still in motion. We should stay united and not follow Russia imposed rules of the game in the conflict.