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Today we are presenting a Joint Communication from the High Representative and the [European] Commission that responds to an invitation of the European Council of the last 24th of May. This Communication sets out the state of European Union-Russia relations in all their complexity and proposes the way forward – that is an important thing.
Russia remains the European Union’s largest neighbour and it is an important global actor.
However, the deliberate policy choices of the Russian government – I am talking about the Russian government – over the last years have created a negative spiral in our relations.
To meet the strategic challenge posed by the Russian leadership, implementation of the five guiding principles has given us, the European Union, a purpose and an approach that defends our interests and values.
Time and again, the European Union has demonstrated unity, despite attempts by Russia to divide us. This unity remains our biggest asset and needs to be even more robust.
Under the present circumstances, we believe that a renewed partnership allowing us to realise the full potential of a close cooperation with Russia is a distant prospect.
The European Union therefore needs to be realistic and prepare for a further downturn of our relations with Russia – which are, right now, at the lowest level . This further downturn is the most likely outlook for the time being.
On the other hand, our ambition should be to explore paths that can help to change the current dynamics gradually, into a more predictable and stable relationship.
Today’s Joint Communication proposes to simultaneously push back, constrain and engage Russia. In that order: to push back, to constrain and to engage Russia, based on a common understanding of Russia’s aims and an approach that we can refer to as being a principled pragmatism.
Let us go a little bit more into the details of these three verbs
First, we must push back against human rights violations, breaches of international law in our Member States and in our neighbourhood, and continue to speak up for democratic values.
These are matters of direct concern to all members of United Nations, to all members of the OSCE and to all members of the Council of Europe, and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of any country.
As a fundamental part of this, we will continue supporting Ukraine and its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. This includes continuing to call on Russia to assume its responsibility as a party to the conflict and to implement the Minsk agreements.
Second, to constrain Russia’s attempts to undermine European Union’s interests. The European Union must become more robust and resilient.
For doing so, we must develop our cyber security and defence capacity, as well as our strategic communication capabilities, by stepping up work on foreign information manipulation and disinformation.
We should continue to strengthen our capabilities against hybrid threats.
We must also use the advantage provided by our energy transition and support the energy security of our neighbours. Our energy transition will affect Russia crucially from the point of view of an energy mix – and, as you know, Russia is a great provider of hydrocarbons in this energy mix.
We also need, finally, to step up support to our Eastern partners and increase their resilience through the implementation of the pending reforms.
Third, but not last, it is important to engage with Russia. It is important to engage with Russia on several key challenges to further defend our interests:
First, you know very well that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for global engagement on public health. The virus knows no borders and the border that the European Union and Russia share is about 2,000 kilometres long.
Second, we should engage in a close dialogue with Russia to combat climate change in the run-up to the COP-26 in Glasgow(link is external) and beyond.
Third, we should also continue to address the more technical engagement with the Russian government on the vast number of economic irritants in our relations.
Fourth, we should strengthen people-to-people contacts, which could include more visa facilitation, especially for young people, academics and work exchanges.
The following item is to continuing supporting – and to be more flexible and creative in doing so – Russian civil society and human rights defenders.
Finally, on the foreign policy front, we should continue to cooperate on regional issues – there are many of them, Middle East, Afghanistan, the JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal] or Libya – and on global issues: counter-terrorism and non-proliferation.
These are the proposals that together with the Commission we have been drafting to take forward our relations with Russia.
We will continue working closely together with our partners in the G7, NATO and other like-minded partners.
We want and we need to drive the relationship in a way that our interests and principles will be better defended and promoted.
This Communication will form the basis for the discussion at next week’s European Council, which is, according to the Treaty, the body that has to provide guidance on foreign policy.
I look forward to the Leaders – the members of the European Council – to provide this guidance in order to steer this, as you see, complex relationship.
I thank you very much for your attention.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-207637
Q. These three principles “push back, constraint and engage” are added to the existing five guiding principles of the European Union’s policy toward Russia. But the new document places the emphasis differently. Going into these principles are you somehow losing Ukraine, so some may think that it might weaken the European Union’s policy towards Russia. The second question on the selective engagement, I have heard opinions that in return for cooperation on climate change, Russia will expect some funding from the European Union’s institutions, while sanctions that are currently imposed forbid that.
Deje que le conteste en español, seguro [que] me expresaré mejor. Para nada estamos abandonando los cinco principios – lo he dicho dos veces – tienen plena validez, pero se trata de orientar su aplicación práctica.
Imagine usted una matriz, filas y columnas, pueden tener columnas los cinco principios y filas los tres verbos. Cada una de las columnas encuentra su sitio en la casilla correspondiente de cada verbo. Y esos verbos lo que hacen es implementar en la práctica, de una forma más concreta y precisa, el contenido de los cinco principios. ¿Lo imagina usted? Cinco principios con los tres verbos. Los tres verbos son la forma de declinar en la práctica el contenido de los cinco principios, pero constituyen las guías de la acción.
¿Qué queremos hacer con Rusia? resumido en tres palabras, está claro: to push back, to constrain and to engage. Son las tres guías en términos prácticos y operativos de la acción, pero la acción responde a los objetivos, al contenido de los cinco principios.
Ahora, los cinco principios, si solo son principios, no nos van a ayudar mucho, hay que llevarlos a la práctica. Y la forma de llevarlos a la práctica es orientar la acción a través de estos tres verbos — que no me cansaré de repetirlo — constituyen las guías operativas, operacionales, de nuestra relación con Rusia. Y creo, [que] he detallado en qué consisten, cuál es su contenido.
Y no entiendo su referencia a Ucrania, quizás no me ha entendido usted bien, pero lo vuelvo a repetir. Como parte fundamental de esta comunicación esta continuar nuestro apoyo a Ucrania, a su integridad territorial, a su soberanía y a su independencia. Y esto incluye, continuar exigiendo a Rusia que asuma su responsabilidad que tiene como parte del conflicto y la implementación de los Acuerdos de Minsk.
Creo que ahora lo tendrá usted más claro.
Q. One sentence in the document captures my attention, on top of page 12: “The EU will aim at limiting the resources the Russian government can draw on to carry out its disruptive foreign policy.” How do you intend to limit the resources? Which tools do you think are fit to do that? For instance borrowing could be further reduced following the US example. And this sentence says “will” it does not say “could”, does that mean you think there is already consensus for that measure so that further decision in the European Council is not necessary?
This is a document to be discussed by the European Council, that has to be approved after debate. And certainly, the final version of this communication, of this document, which I hope will be endorsed in general terms by the Council, will provide the guidelines for action.
After this press conference, you will have a more detailed [technical briefing] to go into the details. I am not going to talk exactly about what does it mean this ‘will’ instead of ‘could’. Will means will, it means that we are going to do, unless the European Council has another idea, which I do not believe. And about the specific ways of implementing each one of the sentences you will have a more detailed analysis [after this press conference].
Q. I have a more general question: why should Russia speak to the European Union as an organisation – to Brussels? Moscow’s view of the world is that it is better to talk to presidents and prime ministers in the capitals; it does not like these multinational organisations. So, how do you make the European Union important to Russia? is it not just by using hard power, targeted sanctions on Putin’s friends and airlines?
Certainly, I know – because I have been told directly – that Russia is not interested in engaging with the European Union and they prefer to go directly to talk to some Member States – the ones that are especially relevant for them.
Certainly, if Europeans want to show unity in front of Russia and they want really to implement this policy, they will have to understand that they cannot go one by one having bilateral deals with Russia because in this case it would not be possible to engage Russia with the European Union.
You need two to dance tango. And on one side, there is the European Union and on the other side there is Russia. And Member States, if they agree with these guidelines, they will have to implement them in practice. And not let Russia to implement a divisive policy, trying to go through several bilateral agreements, forgetting the existence of the European Union.
If everybody says, you have to talk with the European Union, then Russia will have to talk with the European Union or talk with no one.
Q. ¿Hay medidas concretas previstas para reducir las importaciones de gas o petróleo de Rusia?
No hemos dicho que vayamos a reducir selectivamente las importaciones de gas o de petróleo, disminuyendo las importaciones provenientes de Rusia y manteniendo las importaciones provenientes de otras fuentes. No hay nada en la Comunicación que diga que las consecuencias de nuestra política climática vayan a ser concentradas en un suministrador o en otro.
Pero, globalmente, está claro que si aplicamos lo que hemos dicho que vamos a aplicar en materia climática — que es tanto como decir en materia energética —, nuestro consumo de hidrocarburos va a disminuir mucho. En particular el petróleo, pero también —aunque sea una energía de transición — el gas, a más largo plazo. Y esto va a ser así para todos los suministradores, no en particular o más especialmente para uno. Y, naturalmente, eso afectará también a Rusia que es uno, por no decir el mayor, suministrador de gas para Europa. Y de petróleo también una parte importante, pero sobre todo de gas.
Si vamos a reducir — al ritmo que queremos hacer — nuestro consumo de energía carbonada, nuestras importaciones de Rusia van, inevitablemente, a disminuir. Pero no en particular las de Rusia por ser de Rusia, no hay nada orientado contra, simplemente extraemos la consecuencia de que si vamos a consumir menos, vamos a importar menos.
Q. When I see what was proposed in this recommendation, it is more or less what the European Union was doing in recent years. Or do you say that the policy will be different? If yes, then in what ways will it be different? If it is more or less a continuation of what the European Union was doing, we saw that it was not very efficient because the relationship with Russia deteriorated and it did not stop Russia from doing what it was doing. Will the recommendations proposed be successful and will it be efficient?
I do not know if they [the proposals] are going to be enough. And it is clear that this Communication is not reinventing the [wheel]; it is not a complete break with what we have been doing until now. You do not write history like this; history is a continuation of one step and others. And certainly many of the things I have been mentioning have been implemented until a certain degree. What this Communication clarifies is the scope of our relations with Russia, the general approach of our relations with Russia, identifying three lines of action. And on each line of actions there are specific actions.
You may say: “Oh, this specific action was already being implemented”. Yes, we have been fighting against disinformation; we are not going to start fighting against disinformation the day after the approval of this Communication, certainly. But there is a stronger emphasis on each one of the items that have to be implemented, asking the European Union and the European Union Member States to reinforce these actions, to take more seriously some of the actions that have been enunciated but maybe not implemented enough, and structuring it along three lines of action, which are not one after the other; they are all together. You have three tools and you use all three at the same time, combining them every day, not first one thing and then the other – the three things at the same time. There is our toolbox, and some of them have been there before, some of them have been used.
What the Communication says is that we need a stronger engagement, we need to be more assertive, we need to be more active and, as I said, we need to increase our capabilities; we should continue strengthening our capabilities. We should pay more attention to cybersecurity. We have a huge leverage provided by our energy transition. There are elements that were there before, but it is a way of structuring all of them and putting the emphasis on the need to be more proactive and less reactive.
Q. Sanctioning hackers is mentioned in the document. We have seen a couple of instances where Russia has been linked to cyberattacks in the past half year or so: the SolarWinds supply chain intrusion is one example and there have been several examples of attribution from security services on attacks on coronavirus vaccine development and research institutes and facilities. Has the European External Action Service received a request from the Council to draft sanctions related to these cases and related to these cyberattacks. Are you aware that such a request is coming?
As you know, we have a sanctions regime for these kinds of attacks, which has been used in the past, several times. For the time being there is not a concrete proposal of taking sanctions but I cannot say that there will not be. But in any case this is not the purpose of this Communication. This Communication stresses the importance of being very much active and to continue increasing our capabilities against hybrid threats.
Q. Last week we found out that the Portuguese authorities had shared personal data of three Russian citizens who were trying to organise a demonstration against the detention of Alexei Navalny with the Russian embassy and the Russian Foreign Ministry. Have you expressed any concerns or asked for any clarification from the Portuguese authorities on this matter?
Bueno, esta cuestión no tiene nada que ver con la comunicación que hoy les presento. Estoy encantado de contestar las preguntas sobre el tema objeto de la rueda de prensa y no sobre cualquier otra cosa.
En todo caso, este es un tema que corresponde dilucidar a las autoridades portuguesas y no tengo ninguna información que transmitirles al respecto en este momento.
Q. Sur la partie engagement de la communication qui me semble être peut-être la plus novatrice. Dans votre esprit, l’engagement que vous proposez est-il un engagement inconditionnel ou bien est-ce qu’il y a des conditions ? Et en tout cas est-ce qu’il y a des résultats escomptés de cet engagement ? Sur le contrôle des armements nucléaires, pensez-vous que l’Union européenne doit trouver une place à la table des discussions qui seront peut-être continuées d’ailleurs aujourd’hui dans la foulée du sommet entre le Président des États-Unis Joe Biden et le Président de la Russie Vladimir Poutine, entre les États-Unis et la Russie, et à laquelle, en tout cas du côté américain on pense aussi inviter la Chine. Est-ce qu’il faudrait qu’on se retrouve à quatre autour de cette table ?
Merci beaucoup pour votre question. Évidemment il y a des gens qui doutent de la possibilité de s’engager avec la Russie et qui pensent que cet engagement devrait être conditionnel. À mon avis, il faut essayer d’avoir avec la Russie des contacts positifs parce que c’est aussi une façon de défendre nos intérêts. Et dans tous les cas il y a des sujets pour lesquels c’est inévitable d’avoir un rapport avec la Russie. Imaginez-vous que nous puissions traiter du problème de l’arctique sans la Russie ? Pouvons-nous sérieusement nous occuper de l’arctique sans la Russie ? De la même façon nous ne pouvons vraiment pas imaginer pouvoir traiter du sujet du changement climatique ou du changement dans nos ‘energy patterns’ sans la Russie.
Et il y a des sujets de sécurité, je les ai mentionnés : la Russie est dans le quartet pour le Middle East ; si on veut revigorer le processus de paix au Moyen Orient il faudra quand même que la Russie soit là. Le JCPOA (le Plan d’action global commun) – la Russie est membre du board du JCPOA, on ne peut pas l’exclure et on ne veut pas l’exclure évidemment. Il y a des sujets qui ne dépendent pas de notre volonté, ils sont nécessaires, inévitables du point de vue de la réalité ou du point de vue institutionnel. Cet engagement-là ne peut pas être conditionnel.
Évidemment tout marcherait mieux si dans les autres points nous faisions des avancées. Tout irait mieux. C’est pour cela que, comme je l’ai dit avant, les trois verbes, les trois lignes d’action sont à jouer ensemble comme les trois instruments d’un orchestre, il faut les jouer en même temps. Je sais qu’il y a un certain scepticisme, disant que l’engagement avec la Russie ne sera pas possible car il y aura un manque de volonté. Nous allons voir. Nous, nous essaierons de trouver avec la Russie les rapports nécessaires pour défendre nos intérêts là où la Russie est un acteur nécessaire, pour ne pas dire inévitable.
Q. The communication talks about additional restrictive measures that will be passed by the European Union if needed. Where do you stand on sanctions? Do you think the European Union could and should extend sanctions further on Vladimir Putin’s close circle of oligarchs, as proposed by the team of Alexei Navalny? Is that something you would like to see? Or would you agree more with President Macron that sanctions are no longer an effective policy? I know that this is to be discussed at the European Council, but what is your view on further sanctions against Russia?
Well it depends. Sanctions when, how, and what? ¿Para que, por qué y para qué? Why and for what? There is not a general recipe for sanctions. What we have is a toolbox, and we use it according to the needs.
Look for example at Belarus. I know Belarus is not Russia, but Belarus is strongly supported by Russia. On Belarus, we have been passing from personal sanctions to economic sectoral sanctions; quite important. I hope they will be approved – because Member States have to decide by unanimity – and I hope they will decide positively and they will be adopted at the next Foreign Affairs Council.
With Russia there have been, in the past, economic sanctions. In general, the European Union is quite reluctant to use economic sanctions because we affect the whole economy and it means we affect negatively ordinary people who are not responsible. We try to make the difference with the government and the people. You will notice that I have been talking – at least I wanted to talk about – the Russian government as something different than Russia. So I do not know, it will depend.
I hope that it will be possible not to go in an escalation of sanctions because it would mean that the relations will be continuing to deteriorate and I will try to do my best to avoid it, showing at the same time the necessary strength to push back and constrain and at the same time the will to engage when necessary and possible. So I hope it is not going to be necessary to put more sanctions but it will depend on the evolution of the events.
I always say that sanctions are not a policy; sanctions are a tool. And you use it selectively, when needed and depending on the circumstances of each case. In the case of Belarus without the hijacking of this airplane we would not be talking about economic sanctions. This event triggers an answer, and I hope that with Russia we will not be in this case and we will be able to engage sufficiently and, I want to repeat, at the same time to push back, to constrain and to engage.
Q. I heard an interesting idea about the visa facilitation for young people, for academics from Russia – for youth, work and travel programmes, academic cooperation and science education and student exchanges. But you do not fear that in such case, Russia can retaliate by forbidding the travel of those people? You do not fear that Russia can impose some measures against travelling?
Once again, I do not know. But when we talk about people-to-people contacts, we have to increase the possibilities of these contacts. We are preaching people-to-people contact. Well, let people move, in order to be able to contact each other.
If the Russian people remain in Russia and the European people remain in Europe, where is the people-to-people contact? So, we should promote as much as we can the mobility of young Russians. How? Providing visas, first of all, because Russians need a visa to travel to Europe. Providing funding, Erasmus, providing opportunities of learning or working. I think that we are not doing enough in this field.
When we think about people-to-people contacts, we are think about to going to help the civil society organisations in Russia. And yes, we have to do that. But also, it could be very interesting to promote mobility, by being generous on providing visas and providing financing for travelling, for studying and to know what the European Union is about and what is our way of living.
If Russia reacts preventing the mobility of its citizens, well, it is not in my hands. I do not expect this [to] happen.
Q. Since you are saying that the European Union should be proactive and not reactive, and since we are moving in a new era of climate neutral economy and so on, do you think that Germany should stop the Nord Stream II project?
Nord Stream II was not launched by the European Union. Nord Stream II is not a European Union project, it is not being funded by the European Union; it is a German project. The European Commission, even before I became Vice-President, has already said clearly that this project is not considered a priority, because it does not increase the diversification of our energy sources. It is not me who is saying that now, it is the European Union who has been saying it in the past. If this project is finished – and it seems that it is almost finished – if it works, it will have to work according to all the regulations of the European Union. It cannot be any other way. And I am not going here to say what the Germans have to do with their investments. What I can say is what the Commission has said: this project is not considered a priority because it does not increase the diversification of the energy supply. I cannot say more.
I would like to add as a general consideration that this Communication is a framework. If it is approved by the European Union Council it will have to be developed. But it contains the action lines, concrete guidance on what we have to do. Then, certainly, it has to be done. If we say that, for example, we consider that part of the Russian oligarchy has financial interests in Europe and the flow of resources to these people should be more controlled and used, if necessary, as a tool and used as leverage. We have a lot of leverage.
Let me give as example some figures that are in the Communication. 75% – three quarters – of all Foreign Direct Investments in Russia is done by European Union firms. Three quarters of all capital that goes to increase the economic infrastructure, economic capacity, production capacity of the Russian economy is our capital. And 40% of the Russian budget comes from resources issued from the oil and gas exports and we are a big importer. So certainly there is leverage.
This [Joint Communication] is a framework for action. It is a way of structuring the five guiding principles along three lines of action and then to analyse each with more specific action to be taken. And certainly it will depend on the political will to implement it. But it will be very good if we could have the unanimous support of the European Council and this could be the guidelines for action for all the European Union, which means the European Union and the Member States.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-207638