The crisis over Ukraine has exposed profound disagreements between the EU and Russia over the European security order. Mutual interdependence, which used to be seen as a stabilizing factor, is being re-assessed and re-shaped by both sides of the relationship. The EU seeks to defend its norms and interests by sanctions, tightening of the common energy policy, and by taking steps to respond to Russia’s anti-Western propaganda. At the same time, the EU’s unity vis à vis Russia is being tested by its internal political and economic troubles and differing strategic priorities of the member states. The seminar will examine the underlying reasons for the current confrontation between the EU and Russia and assess the possibilities and short-term instruments to manage the tensions. It will also discuss the preconditions and prospects for a return in the longer-term to a more cooperative relationship.
Ambassador Vygaudas Ušackas was appointed as the Head of the EU Delegation to Russia in September 2013. Prior to this, he served as Special Representative and Head of the EU Delegation to Afghanistan. After obtaining his Law Degree from Vilnius University and completing his post-graduate education in Political Sciences in Denmark and Norway in 1990 and 1991, he joined the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In his distinguished career in the Foreign Service, he served as Counsellor to the Lithuanian Mission to both the EU and NATO from 1992 to 1996; Political Director of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1996 to 1999; Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania and Chief Negotiator for Lithuania’s Accession to the EU from 1999 to 2001; Lithuanian Ambassador to USA and Mexico from 2001 to 2006; Ambassador of Lithuania to the UK from 2006 to 2008; and was Lithuanian Foreign Minister from 2008 to 2010.
Teija Tiilikainen – opening words
In her opening words Teija Tiilikainen, director of FIIA, characterised the Ukraine crisis as the deepest rift in the EU-Russia relations after the Cold War. The crisis has presented several questions about the EU’s ability to act in this difficult situation. It has also brought forward the different nature of the actors involved. Whereas Russia can be seen as a traditional state actor wielding both military and political power, the EU is a sui generis civilian power. This makes the situation challenging. In her remarks, director Tiilikainen hoped that the seminar would offer both analysis of the roots of the crisis and perhaps point to potential ways out of it.
Ambassador – Vygaudas Ušackas
In his keynote address ambassador Ušackas noted that Finland is a fitting place for a seminar with such a topic since the country has maintained long and extensive relations with Russia. He reminded the audience that at the beginning of his term as the EU’s ambassador to Russia in autumn 2013 there was still a good momentum in the initiatives between Russia and the EU and there seemed to be grounds for a future common agenda. At that time the Europeans talked about a strategic partnership with Russia. From the European perspective Russia was seen as a European country with future potential for democratization.
Ambassador Ušackas pointed out that today it seems that the current crisis has undermined the progressive steps taken by Russia so far. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have seriously harmed the EU-Russia relationship. The principles of OSCE have been abandoned. Today the EU and Russia have clashing worldviews and there is a lack of understanding of a common future. This holds true for several sectorial policies including trade policy.
The EU and Russia are currently running the risk of a long term strategic rivalry. However, according to ambassador Ušackas isolating Russia is not an option and the parties of the conflict will have to come together. The EU is willing to welcome Russia back to the international arena as a responsible player.
Ambassador Ušackas laid out some potential ways to solve the crisis. First of all fulfilling the Minsk agreements would be a good start. Ukraine has the right to make its’ own choices and has signed the association agreement with the EU. The independence of Ukraine has to be acknowledged.
The EU wants to build a prosperous and stable environment. Ukraine’s choice was not between Russia and the EU. The EU is committed to financing Ukraine and is helping Ukraine to reform its administration. The Eastern Partnership remains a priority for the EU and it is not aimed against anyone. The upcoming Riga summit will be a good opportunity to assess the Eastern Partnership. Ambassador Ušackas noted that the EU remains the first trading partner for most Eastern Partnership countries and it recognises that Russia has legitimate trade interests with these countries.
The EU and Russia will have to develop their future together. In the field of trade ambassador Ušackas noted that Russia has not followed the WTO provisions and there has been increased protectionism. This should be reversed and the future goal should be common area of economic freedom from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Energy is an important field of cooperation in this relationship. This concerns especially the gas market. The EU is a very good partner for Russia in this regard. Both sides should value trust and predictability in this area. Referring to the Gazprom antitrust case, the ambassador noted that the EU expects Russia to respect EU laws on EU territory.
People-to-people contacts are also important. Russians have been issued the largest amount of Schengen visas which goes to show how important these relations are.
At the same time the EU sees a clear downward trend in the human rights situation in Russia and it has expressed its concern over these issues. 62 Russian NGOs are now called foreign agents and this is a worrying trend.
Finally ambassador Ušackas emphasised that Russia is an important global player with regard to critical international issues such as the crisis in Syria, negotiations with Iran, climate change and the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean. However, at the moment Russia and the West seem to be moving in different directions and this trend needs to be reversed. The parties share a long common history and they are too interdependent to remain separated.
In his remarks professor Hiski Haukkala described the current crisis as a long slowly winding train wreck that has been a long time in the making between the EU and Russia. He presented his thoughts on three aspects of the current crisis. Firstly the way into the crisis, secondly the current situation and thirdly some potential ways forward. He argued that the way forward does not necessarily imply a way out of the crisis since it seems that the crisis could last for a very long time.
Professor Haukkala underlined that Ukraine was not the main issue in the current crisis which has been building up for some time. It would be wrong to focus only on Ukraine and this would risk missing the big picture. According to professor Haukkala the current crisis in EU-Russia relations was the result of a long process during which both sides tried to engage each other and both had genuinely good intentions. However, the underlying logics of the two parties in approaching this issue were different.
Whereas the EU was building a unipolar Europe built on a European vision of the future, Russia was trying to build a bipolar Europe – a so called greater Europe that would include eastern and western poles. At the same time the EU kept on pushing its own version of order towards the east. In a way this preordained the current crisis.
As to the current situation professor Haukkala considered that Russia was willing to change the rules of the game. The takeover of Crimea and subsequent actions in eastern Ukraine are a reaction to the long term development. The Russian position is that they were forced to this situation. Professor Haukkala considered the current actions of Russia a strategic gambit. He emphasised the necessity of the EU to hold back any potential for escalation of the current situation.
Professor Haukkala considered the escalation potential of the current conflict dangerous. The situation is made even more serious by the fact that Russia is not operating from a position of strength.
As to the way forward professor Haukkala argued that this crisis is likely to last for a very long time and there is no need for strategic patience. The hard reality of the situation is that it probably cannot be fixed. The conflict has to be muddled through – not muddled down. Professor Haukkala offered eight suggestions for doing this. First, it is important to raise the cost of escalating the conflict. Second, the EU member states need to improve their own security in the widest sense possible. Third – both of these steps have to be taken with minimum saber rattling. Fourth and fifth – these messages have to be combined with a more conservative note emphasising the good sides of the relationship. Sixth, this should send the message about the intentions of EU. Seventh, there should be an avoidance of empty engagement with Russia since this is not credible. Finally, the EU should help its neighbours to take their destiny into their own hands – they are agents that have to be taken into account.