23 May 2015

Head of the European Union delegation to Russia Vygaudas Usackas: There is no link between Mediterranean sea-problems and EU sanctions on Russia

Head of the European Union delegation to Russia Vygaudas Usackas has given an interview to Interfax in which he said that the EU‘s Eastern Partnership policy is not directed against Moscow, expressed hope that Russia‘s position on illegal immigration will be constructive and criticized Russia‘s new law on unwelcome foreign organizations.

Question: Russia has repeatedly voiced a tough criticism over the EU‘s Eastern Partnership policy. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said he expected the EU to prove in deeds and not in words that the Eastern Partnership was not directed against Russia. How could the EU prove it?

Answer: In fact it‘s simple: by helping make our common neighbors safer, more economically developed and promote reforms. I believe Russia should be interested in this as we are in the EU. How we do it practice? The Eastern Partnership is a joint initiative by the EU together with the six countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine with purpose of helping the region develop and be more stable. The partnership is flexible. It works according to the individual wishes of the country - what it wants do to together with the EU. There are also possibilities to join regional programs for instance on environment, transport links or energy connections. Four focus areas are: democracy and the rule of law, economic integration and convergence with EU policies, energy security and contact between people.
Some concrete examples: When we help free trade between EU and Ukraine also Russian companies producing in Ukraine will able to promote their product in the EU; the world‘s largest integrated marked. When customs procedures are helped by electronic procedures how can this be against Russia? When students and scholars are joining programs with EU partners how does this hurt Russia? Is it a problem for Russia that an extra [several] million Moldavians now visit the EU after the visa-free regime began last year? How can it be against that environment specialists and agencies engage in cross-border cooperation for cleaner surroundings?
Let‘s remember that Russia was also invited to join - but decided to decline, wanting another sort of partnership. The EaP was not, is not and will not be against Russia.

Q.: What is your overall assessment of the situation in Ukraine and of the progress in implementing the Minsk agreements? Aren‘t you being worried over possible resumption of hostilities in the light of the recent statements by President Poroshenko about the so-called cease fire in Donbas and the necessity to fight for the country "until the last drop of blood"?
A.: Full implementation - by all concerned - of the Minsk agreement is of crucially importance. It‘s the best possible way ahead to secure de-escalation and see a political solution to the crises in Ukraine.

Q.: How would the EU perceive it if Russia recalls partly the sanctions against Greece, Cyprus and Hungary?

A.: The Russian authorities know very well that the EU operates as one entity. The decision by the Russian leadership last August introducing so-called ‘anti-sanctions" has led to significant increase in inflation and hit Russian customers and thus the Russian economy. I don‘t want to speculate further.

Q.: When putting to a vote a draft UN Security Council resolution approving the operation in the Mediterranean sea aiming at fighting illegal migration, what position does the EU expect Russia would take? Would any bargaining be possible? For example, Russia votes in support the draft and in return the EU would review its sanctions against Russia at the end of June with a view to scale them down or lift them as both issues will be considered at the end of June as expected.

A.: The EU is preparing comprehensive actions regarding migration across the Mediterranean. This includes actions on the root causes as well as discussing handling refugees inside the EU. The problems at sea are a particular issue and we hope and expect Russia to play a constructive part. It‘s important to avoid or reduce the number of refugees being tempted onto dangerous ships destined for catastrophe at sea.
I don‘t see a connection between the Mediterranean sea-problems and the EU sanctions on Russia regarding her illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine.

Q.: How would you comment the adoption of the law on undesirable foreign organizations? An undesirable organization poses threats to the foundations of the constitutional system, to defense and security.

A.: I think the law goes in the wrong direction and unfortunately promotes a climate of fear and suspicion: a sense "Them-against-us". Taken together with the law on so-called Foreign Agents it gives me an uncomfortable ring of former times. Is it to scare away people and organizations from doing their normal things? Can‘t people and organizations decide for themselves? It does not match my picture of a Russian society wanting to progress with a vibrant civil society tapping the creative resources of its individual members.
I‘m convinced that the strength of a society is measured by its ability to harbor difference and diversity and to allow its citizen to be at their best. Control, suspicion, and self-censorship kill people‘s ambitions.