“Uniting Europe from the Atlantic to Vladivostok is a dream, but this dream is achievable” – Interview with Alexei Gromyko
Nov 20, 2009
On November 9, on the eve of the EU-Russia Summit planned for November 18, the Third European Russian Forum took place in Brussels, which was devoted to the topic: “United Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific: Dreams or a Possibility?” The forum, which was organized on the initiative of Tatiana Zhdanok, a Latvian member of the European Parliament, was held with the support of the Russkiy Mir Foundation, the Green Parties/European Free Alliance and the Moscow city government.
Participants in the meeting included political scientists and public figures from Russia and Europe, members of the European Parliament and representatives of Russia's executive and legislative branches. They also included representatives from official bodies of the EU, the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian-speaking communities of the EU. The delegation of the Russkiy Mir Foundation in Brussels was headed by executive director Vyacheslav Nikonov, who was awarded by the European Russian Alliance for his active work in supporting Russian compatriots living abroad.
Two breakout sessions were organized as part of the meeting. At the section on “Multiple-Vector Integration of the Eurasian Space” a wide range of issues connected with EU-Russian relations was discussed, including prospects for European integration, security problems in Europe, the EU “Eastern Partnership” project, as well as others. Participants of the section of “Revising History: Back to the Future” exchanged views on the how to confront increasing attempts in recent years to rewrite the history of the 20th century.
To learn more about the forum, we spoke with one of its participants – Alexei Gromyko, director of the European Programs at the Russkiy Mir Foundation and deputy director at the Institute of Europe (Russian Academy of Sciences).
– Today’s forum was devoted to the growing closeness and integration of Russia and the EU. This process is one that can be realized in different ways. In his address to forum participants, Patriarch Kirill said that Europe is possibly facing the loss of its very civilizational identity. One way of getting out of this situation is a new system of equitable relations between the eastern and western parts of the European world, which have historically complemented one another and have been connected by common Christian traditions. How did forum participants react to the patriarch’s address?
– The patriarch’s address was discussed on the sidelines of the forum, and the majority of participants supported the ideas expressed. Both representatives of Russian communities in the European Union and foreign visitors believe that western and eastern Europe are inseparable parts of a single spiritual, historical and cultural space. Many said that the countries of the European Union and Russia belong to the same cultural space, so they are destined to always be together.
In his speech to the plenary session of the forum Vyacheslav Nikonov also said this. He is convinced that Russia is certainly a European country and that a huge number of its citizens are Europeans. Moreover, the further Russians live from the European part of the country, the more they feel themselves to be Europeans – by virtue of the fact that they first and foremost come into contact with other civilizations.
In his report Nikonov noted that many people in western Europe do not recognize Russians as Europeans, and the notion of Europe is monopolized by the European Union. This is because Russians are Europeans who are different from those who live in the western part of Europe and who do not want to give up their identity and their own traditions. Russia and the EU, says Nikonov, are independent centers of power. Russia is sees itself as a sovereign power and is willing to build relations with the EU only on the principle of equality. Negotiations on a new cooperation agreement between Russia and the EU can take a long time, and it is difficult to say how long the ratification process in all twenty-seven EU member states will take. He is certain, however, that it can be quite productive to develop our relations even in the absence of such an agreement.
– Mr. Gromyko, you took part in the section on “Multiple-Vector Integration of the Eurasian Space.” What was your report devoted to?
– I talked about how in the space of a greater Europe there are two large integrating projects – the European Union and the CIS, the latter of which is, more precisely, a large Russian space where the core role is played by Russia. Between these projects occurs neither integration nor assimilation – they interact on the basis of a multiculturalism that recognizes the specificity and equivalency of each side without a desire to melt into the other. Russia has rejected the idea of joining the EU, just as the EU is not planning to grow at the expense of Russia.
Uniting Europe from the Atlantic to Vladivostok is a dream, but this dream is achievable if the two sides work very hard at it. Implementing this dream does have a few obstacles. The first of them is the problem of creating a pan-European security system. An important role in creating such a system is the idea of signing a treaty on European security, which was promoted by President Medvedev in June 2008 when he spoke in Berlin. The second problem is the energy interdependence of Europe. Ironically, this problem is currently a source of division between the EU and Russia, although it would seem, on the contrary, that it should help to unite them. In this sense, the implementation of the Nord Stream and South Stream projects should reverse this trend. A third obstacle to convergence is the difficulty in the movement of people. A big role in this respect would be the idea of lifting visa restrictions between Russia and the countries of the EU.
– Did all participants at the meeting share the opinion on the lack of options concerning the convergence of the EU and Russia?
– That was the general view among participants at the forum. The two sides will come together, but without merging together, they will establish effective mechanisms of cooperation on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and indivisibility of security.
– The “Eastern Partnership” project was discussed at the forum, a project whose main goal is bringing together the EU and several countries of the former Soviet Union – Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Belarus. What opinions were expressed regarding this EU initiative?
– Representatives of some EU countries have expressed their views on the “Eastern Partnership” as a project that is not aimed against Russia. Its task, in their opinion, is the socioeconomic and political stabilization of the six countries included in the project, which should be beneficial for Russia. However, a number of Russian participants at the meeting and some representatives of the Russian communities were skeptical of such statements, as there are signs that the “Eastern Partnership” could be used by certain forces in the European Union to bring these countries out of the political and economic space they share with Russia. On this issue, representatives from Russia and the West are in disagreement.
– Russia and the EU coming together is not possible without solving the problem of collective security. What were the views on this subject at the forum?
– Several speakers addressed the topic of creating a pan-European security system. In particular, Dmitry Rogozin gave an interesting report in which he suggested that NATO could not be regarded as a structure that provides a pan-European security, as the alliance has brought a new Cold War mentality to its relationship with Russia. To date, NATO cannot be regarded as a successful organization, which is most clearly demonstrated by the example of Afghanistan.
– How did forum participants – many of whom came from Russian communities across Europe - assess EU policies with respect to the Russian diaspora in the Baltic States?
– The situation of Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic States was discussed quite actively on both sides – not only by representatives from Russia and Russian communities in the Baltic. In some statements the EU was severely criticized due to the fact that its representatives turn a blind eye to the harassment faced by Russian-speaking communities in the Baltic States. They concede the fact that Estonia and Latvia have a non-citizen status, which in Latvia alone includes some 400,000 people – a fact contrary to all norms and values propagated by the EU on the international arena.
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