Room for debate: The current crisis in the Russia-EU relationship is deeply rooted in the concept of Western superiority. The only way out might be found in restructuring the relationship on an equal footing (part 2, read part 1).

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Minsk. Photo: DPA/Vostock-Photo

For a very different take read: "Russia's inferiority complex continues to block its future development [Part 1]"

Against the backdrop of the crisis in Russia-EU relations, a demand for equality is heard from Moscow more and more prominently. Where does it stem from and what does it mean? Isn’t it natural that the two halves of Europe should build good relations on the basis of equality, mutual respect and rejection of any demands for superiority?

However, sometimes a gap exists between words and deeds, and that’s especially true when it comes to the equality of nations. There is a need for Western leaders to once again remember the following simple truths: that there are no superior and inferior cultures; that all nations are equal and contribute to the common treasury of human civilization; and that history and progress are not linear.

The unipolar world has never existed. It is a theoretical construct of some Western politicians and political scientists, who have briefly hypnotized all the others into believing that it is the natural successor of a bipolar world. Yet, the multilateral character of the world order, which had been established by the allied nations after their victory over Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan, has never disappeared.

Now as before, the United Nations Charter and the corresponding body of international law are the alpha and omega of international relations.  According to these documents, equal cooperation, self-determination, non-interference and non-use of force are the supreme moral and political values. The UN Security Council (UNSC) is the guarantor of this world order. Without Moscow or Beijing, no other members of the Security Council can pass any decision.

Shifting balance

In the two short decades since the early 1990s, the balance of power in the world has been transforming. A weakened and disoriented Russia was just getting established in the international arena and the world economy as an independent player. China preferred to keep a low profile and not interfere in anything in order not to hamper its economic growth and conversion into a first-rate world power.

The resources and power have been concentrated within one remaining superpower – the United States, together with its European allies. For some time, an unprecedented disbalance emerged, which some have declared a new constant.

Instead of using this unique situation for the benefit of all to settle conflicts, increase international stability and manage the global processes, the U.S. and EU have only tried to assert their dominance. The West attempted to maintain the position of a global leader and the right to lecture everybody, interfere into domestic affairs and establish their rules.

It didn’t work. Such claims have caused an increasing resistance. The world order based on the imperatives of international law and special role of the UN Security Council (and thus Russia and China) has persevered. Today equal cooperation of states is once again the basic requirement. Thus, the relations between the EU and Russia should not and cannot be based on anything other than equality.

Unsubstantiated claims

All the stories about the EU teaching Russia something, pulling the nation up to its level, helping Russia enter the world economy, offering Russia the chance to borrow the legal achievements of the EU’s integration processes for Russia’s internal legislation, might have had some basis in the beginning of the 1990s. At the time, Russia was building a new political system and was trying to adapt to the market economy, which was a new reality for it.

But not now. The United States just had the most controversial presidential campaign in history and the EU is hastily trying to combat a whole range of crises. Russia has a chance to assume real leadership in the fight against international terrorism. China is beginning to outpace the U.S. and EU in some aspects of economic development. Russia and China have created their own influential international institutions, which are called upon to stabilize the world economy and international order.

A roadmap towards a common future

What kind of roadmap could one offer for equality to be implemented in the relations between Russia and the EU?

Firstly, the entire security system in the Euro-Atlantic region needs to change. It would have to become inclusive and based on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) principles of indivisible security. Something amorphous and indefinite that we have today based on one bloc – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – could to be replaced by an effective collective security system based on a solid treaty, with new inclusive supra-national structures.

The Council of Europe, Collective Security Treaty Organization, Eurasian Economic Union, EU, NATO and OSCE might be all integrated into the new system.

Parallel to that, the bilateral Russia-EU economic relationship could be dissolved into an overarching Grand Eurasian Partnership. Discrimination might be uprooted and administrative barriers need to disappear. Common business-friendly rules of the game should be agreed upon by all sides.

For that, the EU would have to give up the current principles of its Eastern Partnership and its present common neighborhood policy. Trilateral consultations and negotiations in the format of “EU – third country – Russia” and “EU – third country – EEU” must become customary.

The EU could agree that the normative activity must be carried out in cooperation by all countries of the region and take into account the interests of all parties. The domination of Brussels might be relegated to the past. It could be replaced with inclusivity and common endeavor based on the best practices and maximum effectiveness.

Furthermore, a bilateral or multilateral commission on difficult issues of history and bilateral relations needs to be formed. Based on its work, common approaches need to be agreed upon regarding the thorny questions such as the beginning and end of the Cold War; the nature of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union and their contribution to the European and world culture and social development; what happened in Kiev, Odessa, Donbas and other regions of Ukraine, as well as on other issues that have led to confrontation.

Once a common approach is found, the issues should be closed once and for all.

The information war seems to be unleashed against the Kremlin, long before the Ukraine crisis. It must be simply stopped or at least alleviated. Moscow should also return to the tradition of objective, fair and respectful coverage of what is happening in the EU, its internal and external policies. Mutual demonization should be put in the past.

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Everybody must act according to the spirit of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which stipulates freedom of speech and free spreading of news and opinion, but not of fake news and other distortions of reality. Journalists should aim at informing society, not educating and lecturing society. An expanded code of conduct for journalists of print and electronic media as well as social network operators should be not only adopted, but, what is even more important, implemented.

As far as the concept of “European values” is concerned, Russia, the EU and its member states should agree that human rights, the rule of law and pluralist democracy, cultural diversity, protection of the family and interests of children, respect for the main world religions etc. are common heritage.

Everybody makes their unique contribution to it and reaps the fruit of inclusivity, solidarity and tolerance. Nobody has the monopoly to judge the others and point out how they should understand the common values. Their interpretations may, however, change in time and should be determined collectively.

Once progress achieved along the implementation of the points above, a solution would definitely be found for the Ukraine crisis, as well as for other conflicts – whether in Central and Eastern Europe, in the Balkans, South Caucasus or elsewhere in the common neighborhood.

The sanctions war must, of course, be stopped. Both sides should lift the restrictions in financial and economic fields, contacts and freedom of movement. All should agree that keeping the sanctions is incompatible with maintaining good neighborly relations.

Negotiations, preferably within the Council of Europe, should be started aiming at making unilateral restrictions impossible in the future. As a result, a multilateral international treaty of direct rule involving the internal laws and regulations of the participating states should be signed.

It goes without saying that all contacts and communication platforms among European players should be unfrozen. The institutional system of managing Russia-EU cooperation should be not only restored, but also reformed in a way that would take into account the mistakes and flaws of the past and guarantee effective cooperation in the future.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.