Opening the door to dialogue between the EU and Russia

Monday, 2021-06-21 09:29:00
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron arrive to give a news statement in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
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NDO – Heads of the European Union (EU) member states are to meet in Brussels, Belgium, on June 24 to discuss hot issues including the future of the bloc’s relations with Russia. It is said that the Russia-US summit last week has opened the door to dialogue that the EU should also carry out with Moscow.

This week is marked by a series of important events in the EU’s relationship with Russia, including the EU Foreign Ministers’ Meeting to consider sanctions on Russia to be held today (June 21).

Ahead of the conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the EU to maintain dialogue with Russia, regardless of differences between the two sides in several areas such as security issues and the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

In a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Merkel emphasised that the EU has great interest in maintaining dialogue with Russia to ensure security and intra-bloc stability. According to the German leader, the recent in-person meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has opened the door for dialogue between the West and Moscow.

Although the French President shared the stance of maintaining dialogue with Russia and emphasised the need for the EU to have a common path in its approach to the Kremlin, there were many ideas stating that the EU-Russia relations cannot improve in the immediate future.

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell said that under the present circumstances, a renewed partnership between the EU and Russia is a distant prospect.

In a report on a detailed strategy for building a “more predictable and stable” relationship with Russia, which will be discussed at the upcoming EU Summit, the EC Vice President said that it is unlikely for the EU-Russia relations to improve overnight. According to Borrell, the approach that the EU must take now is to constrain and engage Russia.

He emphasised the need for the EU to be realistic and prepare for a further downturn in relations with Russia.

The downturn in bilateral relations has continued in recent times following the two sides’ retaliatory sanctions regarding Russia’s detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. It is estimated that the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia since 2014 have cost the EU’s economy EUR21 billion a year. The sanctions lasting until mid-2021 target all sectors of the Russian economy, such as oil, defence, and banking.

According to the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, EU sanctions against Russia cost the German economy EUR5.45 billion a year. If sanctions continue to be tightened, the financial damage will increase significantly. Meanwhile, German exports to Russia could increase by 15% if sanctions are lifted.

The existing damage caused by sanctions to both sides makes both the EU and Russia consider improving their relations. During a meeting with EU leaders in Brussels last week, US President Biden called for the removal of “red lines” to avoid provoking Russia.

Recently, Russian President Putin stated that the country is ready to improve relations with the EU in the near future. Western European countries and Russia should stand together as the current situation is very unusual, he said, adding that overcoming the problems of the past will help to open a positive period of relationships between the two sides.

According to the Russian leader, the EU needs to “get out of the obsession about the past”. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also emphasised his desire to reverse the current negative trend in Russia-EU relations and recommended that the EU should soon review its relations with Moscow as a multipolar world is becoming an inevitable trend. He asserted that this relationship can only return to normal if Western countries give up their anti-Russian propaganda.

Despite the damage caused by the sanctions, Russia remains the EU’s fifth most important trading partner. Meanwhile, Brussels is also one of Moscow’s leading trade and investment partners. Although the two sides still have doubts about each other, analysts say that the EU and Russia moving towards improving bilateral ties is an inevitable trend for mutual interests. However, in order to achieve this, both sides need to promptly resolve their disagreements and engage in dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect.