Urmas Paet: I hope naivety regarding Russia will remain close to zero

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MEP Urmas Paet (Reform/ALDE) Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Estonia should remind its EU partners that if we want the union to have greater international influence on the Russian and Chinese headings, having EU and NATO countries act as one helps, Urmas Paet writes.

EU High Representative Josep Borrell's Moscow visit has caused a lot of furor in recent days. Many in the European Parliament consider it a failure. Not to mention that even going was hardly sensible at this time.

There are those who find that mutual visits are in order no matter the times and that if we are to blame someone, we should point the finger at Russia for behaving in a manner unbecoming a host.

Russia made it very clear that it has no desire to improve relations with the EU. In doing so, they have drawn another very clear geopolitical line that sees Russia pursuing closer cooperation with China and other authoritarian regimes, while there is no desire to improve relations with Western democracies – the EU and other Western countries.

The most telling sign of this was Russia's decision to expel three diplomats of an EU member state on the day of Borrell's visit that came after a break of four years. With Lavrov saying at the press conference that the EU is an untrustworthy partner.

It seems at first glance then that the political conclusions are clear and I very much hope that naivety will take a back seat in EU-Russia relations for a time. That said, there is no certainty in terms of wishful thinking having run out completely when it comes to Russia.

We can take the example of discussions concerning the future of Nord Stream 2. These very direct messages from Russia could be grounds for stopping the development of the Nord Stream 2 project. Especially considering the fact that the project has been contrary to EU energy security from the first.

And yet, such efforts have not gotten far because Germany, in whose interests the project mainly lies, disagrees, whereas no decisions to terminate the project can be made without Germany.

As concerns the arrest of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and the detention of thousands of protestors in Russia, while it was previously feared that adding new names to the sanctions would take time and only happen after lengthy talks, the recent fiasco in Moscow means that at least the people who participated in repressing Navalny and his supporters will make the list quite soon.

That said, the question of whether Borrell's unfortunate Moscow trip has changed various member states' attitudes toward Russia and how is one for the longer term.

Talking about common EU foreign policy in this context, the situation has for some time been one where member states try to handle potentially beneficial affairs with Russia, China or other difficult partners directly, while saddling the EU with anything problematic, such as human rights violations.

It seems this trend will persist as Borrell's tracks in Moscow had hardly faded when we learned that Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto would be meeting Lavrov.

Let us just say that this urgent matter could have waited at least until the next EU Foreign Affairs Council where the foreign ministers of all 27 member states will discuss what to do about Russia. While the last four years have seen at least 19 high-level mutual visits from various EU countries, this was the first time in four years that the EU high representative attempted a visit. Unsuccessfully, as was to be feared.

In all honesty, it is not a normal situation where we talk about a common EU foreign policy while countries are still trying to have bilateral relations with Russia and China. Instead of working toward a stronger common policy.

It is part of the reason why EU-Russia relations are where they are today. Russia has never been interested in a strong and united EU. That is why every step that helps undermine EU cooperation matters and is promoted in Russia. Whereas past experience tells us that it is often not difficult to achieve.

To summarize the last few days in Europe-Russia relations, Borrell's visit was a colossal failure on the one hand, while it was also a lesson for the future. It is another matter to what extent such lessons hit home.

At the very least, Estonia should remind its partners in the EU that if we want the union to have greater foreign policy influence on the Russian and Chinese headings, the main thing is to have EU and NATO countries act as one as much as possible.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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