Dmitry Polyanskiy
Russia's Significance Evades Europe
Interview for "Mezhdunarodnoye Obozreniye"
("International Review") on Russia 24
Russia-EU relations, already in dire straits, have been made worse still by Lithuania's partial embargo on cargoes to Kaliningrad. Delivery of cargoes from mainland Russia to the Kaliningrad region is an internal affair of Russia, but the transportation routes cross the territory of Lithuania. Twenty years ago, when the great EU Enlargement was in preparation, the transportation issue was settled by signing a joint memorandum. What went wrong with the expected "strategic partnership" between Russia and the EU and it is possible to restore good neighborly relations? – these are the questions Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, interviewed Dmitry Polyanskiy, First Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, for analytical program "International Review". Twenty years ago Mr. Polyansky was running the European line in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
— To look from the ground up, it seems now the boomerang thrown twenty years ago has come back. The issues that seemed resolved back then were not really resolved. What was left uncompleted?
— It was a major achievement for its time. I remember the period very well. I was working in the Russian mission in Brussels. We had very good contacts with our EU colleagues. We were anticipating a great enlargement. And it eventually took place in 2004.

Russia's concerns, particularly about the entry of the Baltic states into the EU, were subjects of thorough negotiations. All issues were negotiated in the context of these concerns. Everybody was positive that the issues had to be resolved. Lithuanians were positive, too, and eager to resolve the issues prior to entering the EU. The general atmosphere was friendly.

The only thing out of the ordinary was the necessity of the EU to amend its regulations in Russia's interests. This had never been done before. It was psychologically hard for them, but they overcame it and adopted two regulations on facilitated travel and transit, and on documents for railroad transportation. Both tackled an urgent problem: transit for people. We sought to avoid the scenario in which our citizens would need a visa to travel from one part of the country to another. So we created a regime that is still in force, as far as I understand, and is convenient for all parties. I believe it was all done very well from the technical point of view. It took the effort of a large group of experts to work out that regime: we had Dmitry Rogozin and Sergey Razov, as well as many governmental authorities working together.

But since then we have witnessed a drastic change in the style of cooperation, in the ambitions of Russia and the EU. There is a huge difference between, say, 1999, when I started to work in line of the EU-Russia relations, and now. Back then everything was seen in a different light. We expected Russia and the EU to become strategic partners, that we would support each other as neighbors living on one continent, and would consolidate our economic and possibly political potentials. There were many bold ideas and projects. Everything was seen, so to speak, in a romantic light.

When we negotiated a strategic partnership, we (the representatives of Russia) meant it literally. But some members of the EU did not feel that way. The 2004 Enlargement played a great role.
Do you believe that at some point both parties sincerely believed that a new Europe could be built?
— I do believe there was sincerity. I remember our discussion of a future configuration of EU-Russia relations. We were rapidly moving towards agreements. Russia saw them as agreements of equal partners in Europe, as an equal strategic partnership. The EU representatives kept repeating it, too, "Equal strategic partnership", but they understood it as a Eurocentric model anyway.

But clearing the matter up was postponed to the future. They told us, "The European Union is going to gain new members due to the Enlargement, and things will be different". They expected things to get better for them, not us, naturally. They told us, "Don't tease Poles and Balts, don't call them Russophobic. They are afraid of Russia because Russia is large, and they are small. As soon as they join the big European family, all phobias will pass, and the relations will move on to another level." Perhaps they (Western European countries) truly believed what they told us. However, the result was quite different.

The result was that Russophobia and parochialism among the new members became contagious for the whole European Union. One of the reasons was the decision-making process in the EU. Very different countries needed to promote their interests. The interests of the ten new members were their ties with Russia, which they traded for the interests of the European 'grands': in the case of France, it was agricultural policy, in the case of Italy – migration policy, and so on. Concessions after concessions – and the EU allowed a situation in which anti-Russian rhetoric became prevalent.

Another thing is worth mentioning. The Enlargement did not go as it had been planned. And it had been planned as a "regatta": first come – first admitted. Six countries had been chosen, with only Estonia out of the Baltic states, only Czechia, and Hungary out of the Eastern European states. Then "political competition" began: the Baltic states claimed that they had all fought against the Soviet Union and that it was unfair to admit only Estonia. Germany stepped in for Poland. That was how politics "outsailed" economics. I believe it was done so obviously for the first time.
It was the EU's strategic mistake to admit 'unripe' countries. These countries brought along their 'unripe' ideas and expectations to the European family.
As for Romania and Bulgaria, they had not even been considered, but a few years later they were admitted in bulk. The European Union became a more complex and more fragile construction in the context of revealing common interests with Russia. In 2003 we were able to agree on Road Maps of Four Common Spaces, but since then we have not been able to reach such a consensus between Russia and the EU. Prior to 2004–2005, we had EU-Russia summits every six months. At practically every summit we managed to adopt joint declarations on political issues. Today this is something I can't even dream about. Of course, both parties used to bargain about the wordings. But we had a 90% common vision of the issues, of evaluations. Then suddenly the scenario changed. Other powers gained the upper hand in Europe.

A crucial moment worth mentioning was the replacement of the European Neighborhood Policy with the Eastern Partnership. We discussed it frankly with EU representatives. I remember our discussions with the German colleagues very well. We, the Russian party, explained what could happen to Ukraine (and what is happening to it now – not the military operation, but the numerous problems, I mean): distancing from Russia, from the Russian space, Russophobia, nationalism, and the consequences of all that for the EU-Russia relations, of the entire Russia-West relations. Nobody believed us then. They said we were intimidating them. But all our anticipations have come true.

The concept of the Eastern Partnership was a big mistake because there was no equality in it, and the partnership could only be built on the EU priorities, with its new members playing a subdued role. Either you are with the EU and obey the EU will, or you are treated as a threat to your independence (like Russia), and other mechanisms are applied to you. I believe, it was a negative turning point in EU-Russia relations, and we have been unable to overcome it. I am not sure we shall be able to overcome it without some qualitative changes, above all in the EU, in the general approach to what Russia is, what role it plays on the continent, and what they can get from the bilateral relations.
Ukraine Crisis: Europe's sacrifices for the international financial system
EU energy and supply crisis is being fuelled by sanctions against Russia to enable the restructuring of the international financial system under US-American hegemony.
You've mentioned the bi-annual summits. Every time you had to come up with a solution. Was that not the problem? Did we drown in small but necessary steps, in inventing, preparing, and implementing them, instead of strategically planning a long-distance run? Even the Common Spaces were rather technocratic. There was no one to articulate what Russia and the EU would mean for each other in the future because no one had a strong persuasion.
That's not the way I see things. We did not invent the agenda. The EU-Russia relations were developing in many directions, above all between sectors of economies. Every ministry and every team was working on something. All the time we drew interim conclusions, and got sub-results. Our declarations were always "material". As for political cooperation…

When I was working with the EU back then, the political dialogue was additional, not principal. The economic track was principal. Which I believe was right. When politics interfered, the "friend-or-foe" paradigm emerged; when the EU stepped into the post-Soviet space, problems emerged. Economics became dependent on politics. That was an error of planning.

The EU officials working on sector-specific issues, with whom we interacted, had a commitment. They were committed to a great prospect, to greater efficiency of the relations with Russia, and a move to another level – at least that was my impression. We actively discussed the ambitious plan of a Common Economic Space from Lisbon to Vladivostok (the early 2000s) and negotiated specific aspects. There were many hidden reefs. Back then Russia was not a WTO member, and the process was complicated. But they were live concepts. We had one common political space, that of security. If I remember rightly, all others were sector-specific, and all were well-loaded: the energy dialogue, transport, and financial and economic cooperation were all actively developing.

The situation was "weatherproof" and independent from, say, the change of a country presiding over the EU. Countries were different, with different attitudes to Russia. Under the EU legislation and treaties, the presidency had a weighty role. Later it all burned down to the European Commission that conducted the cooperation between sectors. The European Parliament did not have a huge role then, whereas now many negative and dubious things in bilateral relations originate from the EP.
The European Union used to be very different from what it is now. My deepest regret (which I have voiced on several occasions) is the failure to implement the agreement in the Preamble to the 3rd Security Space that forbade both the EU and Russia to make our common neighbors choose between the EU and Russia.
That was a key issue that would have saved us much trouble. When the EU started dragging Ukraine, and not Ukraine alone, into its sphere, everything changed. I believe Eastern Partnership violated the principle of common neighbors. Naturally, they crossed the 'red lines' of our interests. Naturally, they started pushing the countries to an uncomfortable choice, and elites could not make the choice without any repercussions.

I believe the EU forgot the main agreement we had come a long way to reach, which was another strategic mistake. It had taken us many years to reach the agreement, many consultations. We seemed to be approaching a consensus. But after the Enlargement the Eastern European countries brought along their agenda, they became more interested in developing relations with their eastern partners. Poland had its ambitions and phantom pains. In 2009, when Eastern Partnership replaced the European Neighborhood Policy, I was working in Poland and could feel, regretfully, that the EU was moving on the wrong track.
– They can object that the Eastern Partnership was a reaction to the Russian-Georgian conflict and that Russia had become aggressive, so they had to respond.
– Not quite so. They had planned it before the Russian-Georgian conflict. It was not done overnight. The conflict had not appeared anywhere, the EU had played its role in it.

It had gradually become imminent and was the consequence of the Enlargement and of the new agenda brought by the Eastern European countries, particularly by Poland which viewed itself as a large country (in terms of population), and the EU immediately began to assist it, to lavishly donate it. Encouraged, Poland decided to promote its agenda, to bargain with the European 'grands' for some other directions. It is generally acknowledged now that Poles succeeded in promoting their agenda, especially in the East.
– I have a question that is metaphysical under the circumstances, but I would like to ask it nonetheless. From the height of your experience, do you believe that at some point – obviously not soon – Russian-European relations will become rational again?
– That would be good. The question is, what we can call 'rational'. I mean the EU position. But Russia will have to do something about it, too. I believe the main thing is that the EU must allow equality and balance in its relations with Russia on the European continent, whereas now the paradigm is exceptionally Eurocentric.
As it turns out, all countries in Europe are obliged to be either EU member states or candidates, or NATO member states, or be tied to the EU economically. This the EU's idea of good neighborly relations. Russia stands out.
They are unable to reformat what cannot be formatted: equal relations with Russia. They weren't ready for it then. If they are never ready for it, if they keep viewing us as a strategic opponent and a threat to the European integration, then nothing will come of it, I'm afraid. The problems are civilizational.

We view the EU as a major actor. It is not an enemy bloc for us. Of course, the recent rhetoric of the European Commission leaders has altered our perception of the Union. For example, Josep Borrell claimed that "the war could be won on the battlefield", and the declarations by Ursula von der Leyen or Charles Michel brought confusion into our concept of the EU. The EU is an economic bloc, potentially our major trade partner, and, no matter what, our neighbor. It will be easier for us to return to the perception we never changed: that the EU is our important neighbor, with whom we wish to develop equal relations. Our interaction will be more pragmatic now, we will not look for common interests the way we did in early 2000s. But even the pragmatic approach will be a major achievement and it will take a lot to reach it because it will mean changing so many ideological guidelines in the EU. However, I don't believe it is a hopeless case.

The problem is that the European political establishment must realize it, too. At present, I don't see any sign of such realization; they are moving away from it.
Russia's significance evades Europe, and so does the European sense of independence. Europe plays a role subdued to NATO, to the USA.
What does Europe want? Were the US-ignited Middle East crises in the interests of Europe? Europe only got millions of migrants. What was Europe's interest in them? What were Europe's interest in Afghanistan and other flash points? What are Europe's interests in the US policy of constraining China? I don't see any. Europe is tailing after the American foreign policy. I understand the motives of the USA, but the motives of the EU are a mystery to me.

It is a problem, too. It turns out that the EU is an unpredictable partner with unclear interests and a diverse unequal set of members. Poles and Balts have been out of bounds with their schizophrenia and Russophobia. What will the EU do about it? How will the EU soothe them? Questions, questions...

But I would not lose optimism. We are neighbors, regardless of the eastward turn (that should have been made long ago, I believe, no matter what our relations with the EU have been). Of course, the EU is our major partner and a group of countries that is close to us in terms of civilization, and we historically have more or less friendly relations with each of them. We have to wait for the dust to settle, for the EU to realize its own interests, and the interests will direct the EU to the relations with Russia.