Member States Expect the EU to Address Inconvenient Topics with Russia and China

Again, there is reason to talk about Russia and EU-Russia relations. The EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell’s visit to Moscow has caused a great deal of furore. The vast majority of the MEPs have considered the visit a failure and its timing wrong. However, of course, there are also those who think that such visits must be made regardless of the timing adding that if anyone is to blame, it is still Russia that behaved inappropriately with its EU guest.

Urmas Paet

However, one thing became very clear — Russia does not wish to improve relations with the EU. Moscow has once again drawn a very clear geopolitical line, according to which it wishes stronger ties with countries such as China, but also with other authoritarian regimes in the world. At the same time, it has no wish to make amends with Western democracies, including the EU.

This became very clear during Borrell’s visit, when Moscow expelled three European diplomats from Russia and Lavrov called the EU an unreliable partner during the press conference.

The political implications of this are clear at first sight, which is to say that I hope that the naivety towards Russia in European capitals and here in Brussels at EU level will be close to zero for some time. Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out that some wishful thinking towards Russia will still remain.

For example, Russia’s current behaviour should provide a strong basis to stopping the Nord Stream 2 project. Especially, given that this project has been at odds with the EU’s energy security policy from the outset. However, Germany, which is mainly interested in this project, has not yet agreed to suspend the project, and unfortunately, without Germany’s consent, the EU or other Member States will not be able to stop it.

We can also assume that the recent fiasco in Moscow will speed up the decision-making on sanctions towards those who are responsible for Navalny’s arrest and the repressions towards his supporters.

However, in the bigger picture, the question remains, how and whether Borrell’s Moscow visit will change the attitudes of the EU and Member States towards Russia. For some time now, we have witnessed how some Member States wish to have a bilateral dialogue with countries such as Russia and China that focuses on beneficial topics whereas the EU is then expected and presumed to address all the negative issues such as human rights violations etc. However, such tactics greatly harm the EU’s common foreign policy.

Unfortunately, this trend seems to be continuing. Borrell just left Moscow but already we were informed about the Finnish Foreign Minister’s bilateral meeting with Lavrov there. It would have been better to first have a proper discussion among all the 27 EU foreign ministers and to decide together on the EU’s next steps towards Russia.

In a nutshell — it is not normal that the EU Member States try to have a separate foreign policy agenda towards Russia and China instead of working towards a stronger EU common foreign policy. However, this is the trap that the EU-Russia relations and Mr Borrell’s Moscow visit have fallen into.

We must keep in mind that a strong and unified EU has never been in Russia’s interests. Therefore, any step that helps to weaken cooperation within the EU is an important element of the Russian foreign policy.

The failure of the Moscow visit should serve as an important lesson for the future. If the EU wishes to have a greater international influence, including towards Russia and China, then the only way forward is to have a strong and unified cooperation between the EU and NATO countries.

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