18 Jun 2020 15:03

Primakov Readings: Cancellation of EU restrictions against Russia unlikely in near future - Russian diplomat

MOSCOW. June 18 (Interfax) - Moscow is not discussing anti-Russian restrictions with the European Union, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's European Cooperation Department Nikolai Kobrinets said on Thursday.

"We aren't discussing these sanctions with the European Union. It wasn't us who imposed these sanctions, and it won't be us to lift them. We will be living as is," Kobrinets said during an online session of the Primakov Readings entitled "The New Generation EU, Strategic Autonomy: Myths or Reality?" and conducted jointly by Interfax and the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO).

Sanctions make Russia an increasingly self-sufficient country. "The pandemic has shown that it isn't so bad to secure oneself against any event," he said.

EU leaders are expected to discuss and, probably, extend for six months sectoral sanctions against Russia during their virtual summit on June 19.

It can hardly be expected that the European Union will lift anti-Russian restrictions in the near future, Kobrinets said after Interfax asked for comment on the June 19 discussion on extending the EU's anti-Russian restrictions.

"Perhaps, one can hardly hope that the sanctions will be lifted shortly," Kobrinets said.

"They're extended on a regular basis, once every six months, and there's nothing new about that. Suffice to say, the prospect of their cancellation is more than just hazy," he said.

There is a group of countries which call the sanctions counterproductive, however, certain Central and Eastern European states insist on "doing everything possible and impossible" to keep the sanctions in place, he added.

"I don't think one can expect the sanctions to be lifted in the near future," he said, noting that Russia has adapted to living as is.

Moscow hopes that Europe will not allow the United States to force it to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) instead of Russian natural gas, Nikolai Kobrinets said in response to a question from Interfax.

"People in Europe are no less practical than the Americans. Hopefully, they won't allow the United States to, pardon me, 'push' more expensive U.S. liquefied natural gas on them as a replacement for gas delivered through pipelines from Russia," he said.

Western Europe, first and foremost Germany, is interested in building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline; this is of obvious economic interest, he said.

EU's own military-political identity

A possible reduction in the number of United States troops stationed in Germany, about which U.S. President Donald Trump has spoken, might prompt the European Union to build its own military-political identity, Anatoly Torkunov, chairman of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), said on Thursday.

"Trump's idea to significantly cut the number of American troops in Germany might prompt European Union countries to combine efforts to set up a defense military-political identity. We should follow this very closely, bearing in mind our own security interests," Torkunov said during the online session of the Primakov Readings.

However, it is quite difficult to anticipate when these plans might be implemented, Torkunov said. All the efforts the EU has made so far to build its own military force have not produced any significant result, he said.

"As I understand, even as concerns rapid response forces, only three regiments numbering 1,500 people each have been set up. All those ambitious plans to set up strong multinational rapid response forces are still at the stage of consideration and discussion," Torkunov said.

As reported earlier, Trump has announced an intention to pull a number of U.S. troops from Germany and leave 25,000 soldiers there.

Trump explained that he made this decision as he believes Germany does not spend enough money on its own defense and is thus letting NATO down. He said if Berlin increases its defense budget, he will return all U.S. troops to Germany.

Future of the Open Skies Treaty after U.S. withdrawal

After withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, the United States will still be able to receive information on Russia's military sites from the NATO countries which remain signatories to the document, Alexei Gromyko, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and director of its Institute of Europe, said.

"The problem is, if Russia chooses the path of concessions and says that now that the U.S. has pulled out, but we remain a signatory to the treaty, as well as the Europeans, that would look fine, but as a matter of fact, this would be a very serious concession on Russia's part from a military standpoint," Gromyko said during the online session of the Primakov Readings, when asked by Interfax about his vision of the treaty's future.

"After all, during the flights that Europeans perform over our territory, all information they continue to collect will also be available to the United States in the same form," he said.

"And so what's the point of this concession, if the U.S. withdraws on the one hand, but on the other, Russia and the other NATO members continue to be parties to the treaty? It's hard for me to say how this stumbling block could be bypassed in order for Russia and the Europeans to be able to play some interesting part here," Gromyko said. 

U.S. President Donald Trump announced on May 21 that he had decided that the U.S. will pull out of the Treaty on Open Skies. The U.S. is expected to formally cease to be a signatory to the treaty in six months.

An Interfax source said on Wednesday that the signatories to the treaty plan to hold a videoconference on July 6, to discuss the effects of the U.S. withdrawal on the document's future. 

The Treaty on Open Skies was signed in Helsinki on March 24, 1992, by representatives of 23 member states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Russia ratified the treaty on May 26, 2001. Today, 34 countries are signatories to the treaty, which allows them to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over each other's territory in order to monitor military activity.

The treaty is open-ended, and any of its signatories are entitled to withdraw from it. A country planning to withdraw from the treaty shall notify the depositaries of this decision no later than six month before its planned withdrawal. The depositaries, Canada and Hungary, shall inform all other participants of such notification immediately.

If any party to the treaty notifies the depositaries of a decision to withdraw, the depositaries must convene a conference of the signatories in order to consider the possible effects no earlier than 30 days and no later than 60 days after receiving such notification.

Factor of politics in diversification of energy supplies to Europe

Political motivation in choosing a specific source of energy resources (for example, the United States brands its liquefied natural gas as "molecules of freedom") on the diversified European market will not play a key role, Andrei Spartak, director of the Russian Market Research Institute and a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said.

"I think it's a temporary thing," Spartak said during the online session of the Primakov Readings, responding to a question from Interfax.

"The Europeans and their partners are trying to build a more competitive model of the functioning of the European energy market. Simultaneously, it's the background influence of the sanctions wars, the problems that exist in the relations between Europe and Russia. I don't think it will last long, because the energy [market], global and European, is objectively becoming increasingly diversified, and branding will become impossible there," he said.

"And Europe is objectively interested in as many different suppliers of fuel being represented on its market. It's also a problem for Russian-European relations, but it's also a factor that will not allow strong politicization of the European energy market," Spartak said.

Yury Kvashnin, head of the Center for European Studies of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), said the European policy toward diversification of fuel sources does not always work against Russian supplies.

"It's often said in Russia that the European Union is looking to diversify its energy market using Russia. But in reality, it seems to me that the situation is much more complex and versatile. Because it happens that the European Union and some other countries are looking to use Russia to diversify gas supplies from other countries if they become dangerous. We can give Libya as an example here, which became a very unstable and unreliable supplier of fuel and that led to a considerable increase in the supply of gas from Russia to Italy. Therefore, it seems to me that, really, the main purpose of the European Union consists not so much in punishing Russia and avoiding its geopolitical influence, as it is often perceived here, but in making the market more balanced and reliable from the point of view of the EU countries," Kvashnin said.

Pavel Korolyov, vice-president of the association Global Energy, spoke about EU plans to develop hydrogen energy and a system for transporting H2. The expert asked the session participants if Europe is now ready to spend large amounts of money on this strategic infrastructure while all forces are being used to fight Covid-19.

Kvashnin said he assumes that investment envisaged for such projects can really be used for current urgent purposes.

"I can comment in a somewhat broader context on whether the European Union will generally have enough funds for the development of various projects in the sphere of alternative energy and for making the power sector generally 'greener.' In my view, the first thing that will be done here, and it will be done fairly quickly, is that there will be a very sharp reduction of the share of coal in the electrical power sector. This is seen in different countries, it's seen even in a country such as Greece, which has now adopted a program to fully give up lignite (low-grade coal that was used in Greece for a very long time in the electrical power sector because it is cheap, and there is a lot of it in Greek territory, and that enabled Greece to maintain energy independence to a certain degree)," Kvashnin said.

"But very interesting tendencies are now taking place on the energy market: the use of coal is becoming increasingly expensive amid the fall in the oil prices, and therefore, I believe that the energy balance will really seriously change in the next few years in the direction of a reduction in the share of coal and the development of other resources. By the way, it is even good for Russia in some respects, because the demand for Russian oil will most likely be shifted right, that is, it will be delayed, and therefore, the need for Russian oil will be quite serious amid the decreasing share of coal. The same can be said about gas, but here, of course, the main challenge to Russia is the policy of the European Union on the diversification of gas supplies," he said.

"As to alternative sources of energy, that's primarily the wind and the sun, but of course, problems with financing will have a serious effect here. And I have some doubts that most of the funds that are expected to be provided under the EU Next Generation foundation will be used for those purposes, that is, the probability is high that these funds will eventually be used for closing the holes made in the European economy by this coronavirus crisis," Kvashnin said.

The Primakov Readings is a new joint project of Interfax and the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences. As part of the project, Interfax will host a number of online meetings of experts, politicians, and public figures that will address topical problems and international relations, as well as the global economy amid the crisis. The project is supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Gorchakov Foundation, and the Moscow World Trade Center.

The previous sessions of the Primakov Readings "U.S. can't afford to contain both Russia and China - experts" and "TAPI's future to remain hostage of politics for long time - experts" were held on June 4 and June 11.

Interfax and Imemo to hold the next session of Primakov Readings titled "U.S. in the vortex of crises: strategic consequences" on Thursday, June 25.