26 May 2009

EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana: EU, Russia have differences on Caucasus conflict but need to maintain dialogue

EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana gave an interview to "Interfax" and "Novaya Gazeta

What main issues are put into the agenda of the European " troyka‘s " meeting with the minister Serguey Lavrov on the Feb.11. in Moscow?

This is one of regular meetings where we discuss our security relations and the most burning international issues. We will also talk more generally about European security, on the basis of the proposals made by President Medvedev. Finally, we will have the opportunity to discuss a number of important and topical international issues, such as the Middle East Peace Process, the South Caucasus, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iran. On all of these, EU-Russia cooperation is crucial.

The EU and Russia are entering in a run of active diplomatic contacts. On Friday European commission visited Moscow and met Russian government for the first time after a 3-years break, there will be the 3rd round of talks on the new basic partnership agreement in Brussels on the Feb.13., in March - consultations on human rights, in May the EU-Russia summit... Meanwhile, the EU said not to do "business as usual" with Russia. What is it about?

Many of the things you refer to are part of the established cooperation we have developed over the years, and which reflects our broad and profound relationship.

EU leaders in September last year reacted to the conflict in Georgia by postponing the negotiations on our new Agreement. Following the withdrawal by Russia fr om the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, these negotiations were resumed. We opted for dialogue and negotiation rather than sanctions as the best means of passing our messages and defending our interests.

This decision should not be misunderstood, however. We still disagree on important aspects of the Georgia conflict, and the atmosphere in some respects has changed. Nevertheless, we continue opting for dialogue and engagement, including by maintaining a significant mission on the ground in Georgia. Russia knows that what happens there is important for our relationship.

The last August events in Caucasus are presented in Russian political language as "Georgian aggression against the people of Southern Ossetia". What is European evaluation of reasons of that conflict and of responsibilities of its actors? Does the EU consider that Russia has completely fulfilled the "Medvedev-Sarkozy" plan?

Our first priority is to do everything we can to stabilise the situation on the ground. As I said, we are present there and follow developments closely. We also continue working with Russia and all sides in Geneva to establish mechanisms for greater transparency and predictability, so we can avoid tension and incidents.

On the implementation of the Sarkozy-Medvedev plan, Russia has taken significant steps towards full implementation, notably with the withdrawal of its troops fr om territory outside of the Administrative Boundary Line with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We still have some issues wh ere we disagree, and the situation on the ground is far from settled, so we cannot turn our attention away from this situation.

In parallel to this immediate work, we are supporting an independent international inquiry on the conflict in Georgia. We believe that it is essential to look into the conflict in order to learn lessons for the future. Her findings will be important for us.

What additional steps are necessary, in your opinion, to overcome consequences of this conflict?

As the relations between Russia and Georgia remain frozen, and the situation on the ground is still tense and unsettled, we of course need to find ways to stabilise the situation and rebuild confidence. This will take time and effort on all sides, but we are ready to continue our engagement in this direction.

The Medvedev-Sarkozy plan created the Geneva talks as the political forum for issues related to this conflict. Next week we will have the fourth round, which in itself a success. Nevertheless, there is still big untapped potential and we believe that the Geneva process should be consolidated and serve as the central political forum on the conflict on a more permanent basis. This is necessary if we want, as you say, to overcome the consequences of the conflict and restore confidence.

Another important step is to make sure that all international actors that are mentioned in the Plan can continue their work. The UN and OSCE missions have essential roles to play on the ground, as has the EU mission, EUMM. Blocking the continuation of these missions before the situation is stable is hardly responsible.

What lessons has the EU learned from the gas crisis of the last January and what is the first reason of this situation? Is it purely commercial or also political?

We paid a heavy price for a dispute between our biggest energy provider and our most important transit country.

History will judge who was responsible for the dispute and whether it was commercial or political. What is important for us is to avoid it from ever happening again, as it directly affected many thousands of European households in the middle of winter.

Obviously the gas dispute has given a sense of urgency to our efforts to improve our energy security. EU leaders will be looking at a wide range of proposals to address this issue at their next meeting in March.

Russia says it was not a crisis of delivery but a crisis of transit. In other words, there is nothing to blame Russia. EU says that Russia has lost its credibility as a partner too. Why?

As I said, history will judge and we will draw our own conclusions. For European consumers, the important thing was that the gas was cut off. I think both Ukraine and Russia share a strong interest in working out a better system that avoids such problems in the future. We certainly are interested in this and in working with both countries in this direction.

Does the EU consider that after this crisis it appears more evident for the energy security of Europe to speed up construction of the "Nordstream" and "Southstream" pipelines linking directly Russia with EU member-states? Or Europeans prefer to be less dependent of Russian supplies?

Energy security is not ensured with single solutions but with a combination of many different measures, and in a complex interplay between governments and the private sector. We will be looking at how to strengthen our internal energy market, ensure greater energy efficiency and use of our own energy resources, including renewables, at how to better help each other in case of interruptions, for example through increased gas storage and a more effective use of oil stocks. We will of course also raise energy more often with our international partners, and look again at our infrastructure needs, such as inter-connections between EU member states, the building of LNG terminals, and a Southern Gas Corridor towards the Caspian region. EU leaders will have a host of proposals to look at in March.

- This year is the 20th anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall. But some dividing lines still stay in Europe: from political ones to trade and visa barriers. How has from your point of view, the position of Russia in Europe shaped? Is there a common approach to dealing with Russia in the EU?

History has moved quickly over the last two decades. Overall, the situation in Europe has improved tremendously over the last 20 years. It is much easier now to travel, to trade and to study across Europe - and here I of course include Russia - than it was in 1989. The European continent is a much better, safer place. Of course, as you say, there is still work to do, and we need to do what we can to remove the dividing lines that remain.

The one that remains I believe is a certain lack of trust, due to the understandable, different perceptions of past history. Building trust takes time, but we have learnt from our own experience in the EU, that it can be done through a combination of common interests, values, rules, and institutions. This has allowed us to remove dividing lines between us in an unprecedented way.

Common interests between us exist from greater economic and trade integration, to the fight against common threats such as terrorism, drugs and organised crime, as well as in contributing to international security and stability. And there are many areas wh ere the EU and Russia are on the same wave-length, such as the Middle East or Afghanistan. Our cooperation is important in today‘s world and we are putting every effort into making it increasingly operational. If we are able to turn these common interests into effective co-operation, in which agreements and our basic values are respected, I think we will be able to gradually overcome the dividing lines that still remain.

- Is it now a time to completely reform the existing system of collective security in Europe as President Medvedev proposed?

I very much welcome President Medvedev‘s proposals, as there is clear scope today for renewed efforts in collective European security, in areas such as disarmament, non-proliferation, climate change, terrorism etc. The EU is therefore willing to engage in an open and constructive discussion on ways of enhancing security in Europe.

We recognise that the current structure is not perfect - and even if it was, any structure needs regular reviewing and updating. It is also important that all participants feel comfortable in it. However, while the existing security framework may need to be adjusted in some respects, it does not need to be completely reformed.

As important for security in Europe would be if we were able to co-operate in solving some of the remaining conflicts here. Actions sometimes speak louder than words.