EU-Russia relations at historic low, but that is just one side of the story

Employment and Social Affairs

There are no more relations between Russia and European Union, as Brussels is “destroying mechanisms built over years”. This strong sentence, pronounced by Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on 23th March during a visit to China, highlight the very bad moment for the dialogue with EU’s biggest Eastern neighbour.

“There are no relations with the European Union as an organisation. The entire infrastructure of these relations has been destroyed by the unilateral decisions of Brussels,” said Lavrov during a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, marking a further Russia-China rapprochement.

Of course, it has to be said that is not true at all that there are no relations, but certainly the status of dialogue between Russia and EU is currently at an historic low. The same Lavrov further explained that Russia only has relations with individual EU nations now. And here we can find big differences among EU members States. The status of this relationship is following also a delicate mission conducted by the High Representative for Eu foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, in Moscow in February. “My meeting with Minister Lavrov highlighted that Europe and Russia are drifting apart. It seems that Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe”, admitted Borrell.

“The current deplorable situation in relations between the European Union and Russia are the result of Brussels’ deliberate political course”, Russian Permanent Representative to the Eu Vladimir Chizhov, in an interview with the Rossiya-24 television channel. He said that the current situation “is abnormal and “it is the result of the conscious or, maybe, sometimes unconscious, political course pursued by the leadership of EU structures here in Brussels,”. “Nevertheless, I have grounds to think that people believe that it is necessary to have relations with Russia,” he added. According to the Russian diplomat, the Eu and Russia have much in common. “It is our common civilization, geopolitics. It is our common, as a matter of fact, culture and the numerous ties linking our peoples, and the complementarity of our economies.

After all, even in the current situation there is no denying the fact that EU countries account for 40% of Russia’s foreign trade”, he explained.
The very low level of relations between EU and Russia is caused even by Brussels opposition to the detention of the Russian opposition activist, Aleksej Navalnyj. Thus, Brussels and Washington imposed new sanctions against senior Russian officials after the poisoning attack and jailing of opposition leader Navalny. The Council of the EU formally imposed penalties on the head of Russia’s investigative committee, Alexander Bastrykin; the prosecutor-general, Igor Krasnov; the head of the national guard, Viktor Zolotov; and the head of the federal prison service, Alexander Kalashnikov, for “their roles in the arbitrary arrest, prosecution and sentencing of” Navalny, according to a statement, “as well as the repression of peaceful protests in connection with his unlawful treatment.”

But the very low level of relations is just one side of the story of Russia-EU current situation. Despite its increasingly hostile relationship with the EU as an organization, Russia does not intend to cut ties with Europe. And neither individual EU Member States are willing to do so. Thus Moscow, despite being criticized, will keep on expanding bilateral ties with individual EU member states, because they seem not willing to give up to their own interests at the end of the day. An example of this is given by Nord Stream 2, the ongoing pipeline project between Russia and Germany, involving Russian energy giant Gazprom and several West European companies.

Case in point is also the EU vaccination strategy and bilateral approach by some Member States. Flouting the EU’s troubled strategy, several Member States have already signed or are actively considering bilateral contracts for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine: these include Hungary, Italy, and Slovakia. The EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton insisted that Europe has “absolutely no need of Sputnik V,” but even Germany disagrees. A German official urged the European Commission to launch a joint Sputnik V procurement that would allow member States to purchase the Russian vaccine through an overarching EU contract.

Moscow has enjoyed success in supplementing its virtually nonexistent ties with Brussels through bilateral relationships with certain EU countries. And that once again highlight one of EU biggest problem as an international actor: the lack of a truly united foreign policy and geopolitical strategy.

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