EU-Russia relations: Commission and High Representative propose the way forward

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


Today, upon invitation of the European Council, the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy are presenting a Joint Communication on the EU’s relations with Russia. The Joint Communication presents recommendations ahead of the European Council meeting of 24-25 June on how to strengthen the implementation of the EU’s Russia policy.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “History, geography and people bind the EU and Russia. The state of our relationship is complex. We have to identify the challenges and seize the opportunities. The deliberate choices and aggressive actions of the Russian government over the last years have created a negative spiral. Managing the EU-Russia relationship continues to represent a key strategic challenge for the EU. In response, the EU needs to continue to act in unity and with consistency, defending our fundamental values and interests.”

High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell, said: “Under present circumstances, a renewed partnership between the European Union and Russia, allowing for closer cooperation, seems a distant prospect. Our ambition should be to explore paths that could help change the current dynamics gradually into a more predictable and stable relationship. The EU will simultaneously push back, constrain and engage with Russia, based on a strong common understanding of Russia’s aims and an approach of principled pragmatism.”

Push back, constrain, engage: managing a strategic challenge

Provided the political conditions allow for it, the potential for EU-Russia cooperation is considerable. However, the Russian government is actively pursuing objectives that go in the opposite direction. Russia often challenges and undermines international law and key principles of the OSCE and Council of Europe to which it has committed. It tries to influence, interfere in and destabilise the EU and its Member States, as well as our partner countries. And Russia uses growing political repression, including of human rights and fundamental freedoms, to preserve the current political and economic order in the country.

In light of this challenge, today’s Joint Communication reviews the state of implementation of the five principles that guide the EU’s relations with Russia, namely:

  • The full implementation of the Minsk agreements;
  • Strengthened relations with the EU’s eastern partners and other neighbours;
  • Strengthened resilience of the EU;
  • Selective engagement with Russia on issues of interest to the EU;
  • People-to-people contacts and support to Russian civil society.

To meet the strategic challenge posed by the Russian leadership, in line with these principles, the Commission and the High Representative propose that the EU simultaneously pushes back, constrains and engages Russia, with the aim of moving towards a more constructive engagement and political commitment by the Russian leadership. This is indispensable to turn the current unproductive tide in this important relationship.

Push back

The EU will continue to push back against human rights violations and will speak up for democratic values, including in international fora. The EU will continue to raise Russia’s consistent breaches of international law in Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere. It will reaffirm its support to Ukraine and its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. This includes calling on Russia to assume its responsibility as a party to the conflict and to fully implement the Minsk agreements. The EU will continue to respond to the Russian government’s malicious actions, including hybrid threats, in an appropriate manner, and will aim at limiting the resources the Russian government can draw on to carry out its disruptive foreign policy.

Constrain

To constrain Russia’s attempts to undermine EU interests, the Union itself must become more robust and resilient. The Joint Communication proposes to counter threats and malign actions more systematically and in a joined up way, whilst ensuring coordination with like-minded partners such as NATO and the G7. The EU should further develop its cyber security and defence capacity, as well as its strategic communication capabilities. We should also continue to strengthen our capabilities against hybrid threats, and make better use of the leverage provided by our energy transition.

The EU will step up support to our Eastern partners, working to realise the full potential of the Eastern Partnership. The upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit will be an important occasion to forge this common post-2020 agenda.

Engage

To further its own interests, the EU should engage Russia on several key challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the common interest for constructive engagement on public health, while we also share a common interest to combat climate change and other environmental issues, necessitating a closer dialogue with Russia, most immediately in the run-up to the United Nations COP-26 and COP-15. The Joint Communication also proposes more technical engagement with the Russian government on the vast number of economic irritants, leveraging the EU’s competitive advantages. The EU will further people-to-people contacts, which could include more visa facilitation for certain Russian citizens, and will also enhance its support to Russian civil society and human rights defenders. Cooperation under the Northern Dimension, in the Arctic, on conflict prevention and regional and global issues, from Iran and the Middle East to Afghanistan, counter-terrorism to non-proliferation is also necessary.

What next?

The Joint Communication will be presented to the European Council on 24-25 June. On the basis of this Joint Communication, the Leaders will discuss EU-Russia relations and the way forward in the EU’s Russia policy.

On the basis of overall developments and guidance from the European Council, the Commission and the High Representative will operationalise the proposals set out in the Joint Communication.

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