EU national governments need to present a unified front to Russia

The naivety shown to Russia in many European capitals and in Brussels at EU level must cease, at least for the time being, argues Foreign Affairs Committee Vice Chair Urmas Paet.

By Urmas Paet

Urmas Paet (EE, RE) is a member of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee

18 Feb 2021

Yet again, EU-Russia relations are in the news.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell’s recent visit to Moscow caused a great deal of furore with the vast majority of MEPs considering the visit a failure and its timing wrong.

Of course, there are also those who think that such visits must be made regardless of timing, arguing that if anyone is to blame, it is Russia, which has behaved inappropriately with its EU guest.

However, one thing has become 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 and other authoritarian regimes.

At the same time, it has no wish to make amends with Western democracies, including the EU.

This was made very clear during Borrell’s visit, when Moscow expelled three European diplomats and the country’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov called the EU an unreliable partner during a press conference.

“I hope that the naivety shown to Russia in many European capitals and here in Brussels at EU level will cease, at least for the time being”

The political implications of this are clear and I hope that the naivety shown to Russia in many European capitals and here in Brussels at EU level will cease, at least for the time being.

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 for stopping the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project. Especially given that this project has been at odds with the EU's energy security policy from the outset.

However, Germany - which has primary interest in Nord Stream 2 - has not yet agreed to suspend the project. Unfortunately without Germany's consent neither the EU nor other Member States will 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 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s arrest and the repression of 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.

“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 strong and unified cooperation between the EU and NATO countries”

For some time now, we have witnessed the process where some Member States look to have individual, bilateral dialogues with countries such as Russia and China, primarily focusing on ‘beneficial’ issues while expecting the EU to address the negative issues with these regimes, such as human rights violations.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that such tactics greatly harm the EU’s common foreign policy, this trend seems to be continuing.

Borrell had just left Moscow when we all found out about the Finnish Foreign Minister’s planned bilateral meeting with Lavrov.

In my opinion, it would have been better to have first had a proper discussion among all the 27 EU foreign ministers and then decide together on the EU’s next steps towards Russia.

It shouldn’t be normal that EU Member States try to have separate foreign policy agendas with Russia and China; they instead should be working towards a stronger EU common foreign policy.

This is the trap that the EU-Russia relations and Josep Borrell’s Moscow visit fell 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 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 strong and unified cooperation between the EU and NATO countries.

Read the most recent articles written by Urmas Paet - Belarus: time to rethink EU foreign policy making

Share this page