By Alexander Miller, for Eurasia Business News – June 30, 2021
The European Commission and the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, at the request of the European Council, will prepare new restrictive measures against Russia in the coming months. These measures will be ready in case Brussels needs to quickly impose them, according to a statement on EU-Russia relations published by Mr. Borrell on June 28.
“In the coming weeks and months, I will take forward the various action tracks that leaders have identified: (…).Second, the European Council invited the Commission and myself to present options for additional restrictive measures to be ready in case Russia continues to breach International law in our member states and in our neighbourhood,” says the message.
The top diplomat received the assignment to prepare sanctions following the summit of the heads of state and government of the EU, which took place on June 24-25. Ten days earlier the NATO Summit was held in Brussels.
Josep Borrell added that the European Council conclusions set a clear direction for our relations with Russia: “keeping a firm line on substance while preserving the necessity to maintain open channels of communication.”
His statement published on the website of the European External Action Service makes also clear that the European Union understands that the dialogue is necessary :
“Russia is our biggest neighbour. It will not go anywhere. It is unlikely that in the near future there will be a political change that will lead to a significant change in its behaviour […].”
“At the same time, we share a continent with Russia and it remains a vital actor on numerous fronts. We therefore have no alternative but to develop a principled, balanced and strategic approach.”
According to Josep Borrell, foreign policy means “talking to people with the power to influence events, including those with whom we have profound disagreements. The point of that engagement is precisely to influence actions and thinking.”
At the Summit, all EU leaders confirmed their resolve to work for “a united, long-term, and strategic European approach […].”
The statement published by Josep Borrell also stresses the following principles :
“A pillar of our relationship with Russia: engagement. Like it or not, Russia is a major player on the global stage and it has increased its political presence in many parts of the world, including in countries and regions where EU interests are at stake: Libya, Afghanistan and Syria, as well as the South Caucasus are telling examples. I am also thinking of the JCPOA on Iran, to which Russia is a party and which we must put back on track.”
“Crucially, we must continue to engage with Russian civil society and citizens. Our quarrel is with the policy choices of the Russian government, not the Russian people. So, we should strengthen people-to-people contacts, which could include more visa facilitation for young people, academics, or other cross-border exchanges. We must continue to support Russian civil society and human rights defenders and be more flexible and creative in the way we do so.”
“The European Council agreed on a balanced way forward. It followed an intense debate on the last-minute proposal by France and Germany to consider re-establishing Summits with Russia (there have been none since 2014). The pros and cons of this were discussed and in the end, leaders agreed to explore formats and conditions of dialogue with Russia.”
Economic sanctions extended
On June 25, the Chairman of the European Council Charles Michel announced that the European Union extended the economic sanctions against Russia, imposed in 2014 following the reunification of Crimea with Russia and the civil war in Donbass. Since 2015, the sanctions have been extended every six months. However, the political process in Ukraine between the Ukrainian Government and the separatists in Donbass is frozen, in spite of Western and Russian attempts to solve the conflict.
The EU asks Russia to fully implement the Minsk Agreements reached in September 2014 and February 2015. Nevertheless, Moscow has repeatedly stressed that it is not a party to the conflict, and therefore should not comply with the Minsk agreements.
The Ukrainian government considers that Russia holds responsibility and claims that the authorities of the unrecognized separatist republics DPR and LPR in Donbass are supported by Moscow.
The way of diplomacy ?
In February 2021 Josep Borrell visited Moscow to discuss with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov the state of bilateral relations. That was the first visit to Russia by an EU High Representative since 2017. Several Members of the European Parliament had criticized this official trip, arguing that it was not the right time for such a visit.
In spite of these critics and one week after the meeting between the US president, Joe Biden, and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Geneva, France and Germany propose to organize a summit of the same kind for the European Union and Russia. France and Germany want to go further in the possibility of a rapprochement with Moscow, to keep Russia in the European scene and counterbalance the China’s influence. Other European Member States such as Poland, Romania and the Baltic States however hold a strong line in issues with Russia. The negotiations will be tough and may freeze the European policy towards Russia.
Given that Russia is a major player in the international chessboard and the EU’s fifth largest trade partner, representing 4.8% of the EU’s total trade in goods with the world in 2020, any further deterioration of the relationship between Brussels and Moscow may cost the European economy billions of euros.
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