Vladimir Chizhov is a career diplomat. Before being appointed ambassador to the EU in 2005, he was Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Chizhov spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.
Are relations between Russia and the European Commission better than generally assumed? A few days ago, the Commission greenlighted the project for a Rosatom nuclear power plant in Hungary, and yesterday Commissioner Vestager apparently put an end to the “Gazprom probe”. There are also expectations that Nord Stream 2 will also receive the green light. Are relations indeed better than generally assumed?
I will have to disagree on two counts. One, Commissioner Vestager didn’t speak of relations with Russia. She spoke of certain relations between the Commission and Gazprom. Second, business is not normal. I would say our relations overall are today abnormal. Having said this, of course, I recognise and acknowledge progress on certain tracks. The one is that you mentioned, the Commission’s probe against Gazprom seems to have reached an understanding, a compromise. And there are other positive signs as far as our cooperation in the energy field is concerned. Though there are issues that still need to be clarified. But Gazprom is conducting its own business with the Commission and we as the Permanent Mission, maintain contacts with the Commission on a broader range of energy issues.
Other positive signs are that we cooperate successfully with the EU on a range of international issues. I will refer to the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear programme, which as we know requires concerted efforts by all signatories. And I think on this we share a lot with the EU. We maintain political dialogue on a number of tracks; we look forward to continuing consultations on anti-terrorism and other topical issues. But overall, the carefully built comprehensive institutionalised architecture of our cooperation is not working. The reason is that most elements have been frozen by the EU and our efforts even to undertake joint stock-taking of our relationship have not yet materialised, though specific proposals on that score were presented by President Vladimir Putin to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker last June in St. Petersburg. That would be my overall analysis.
But to counterbalance the positive news from Commissioner Vestager, the EU decided the same day to prolong the personal sanctions in the context of the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
I would have called this an expression of a dialectical approach by the EU, but, unfortunately, it is not. Indeed, the EU has decided to extend for another six months a package of unilateral restrictive measures against Russian and Ukrainian citizens and some legal entities. And that, of course, is disappointing. Not that we were expecting a breakthrough at this stage because we understand that there are different views within the EU, which has the unfortunate result of the desire to maintain a single policy becoming a goal in itself.
This means basically that each time EU countries discuss sanctions, some of them say let’s ease or phase out the sanctions, while others argue that, on the contrary, sanctions need to be hardened as the situation on the ground has worsened. Consequently, the compromise is to renew the sanctions?