Relations between Russia and the European Union should set clear long-term objectives, and the EU should stop using the friend-or-foe principle in dealing with Russia, says Russia’s Foreign Minister.

The principles of democracy and market economy have become universal across the Euro-Atlantic region, writes Sergey Lavrov. Source: Reuters

In an article written for Russian daily Kommersant, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov takes on the issue of EU-Russia relations, particularly surrounding Ukraine. He points out that 2014 is a good time to remember what can happen when diplomacy fails: this year, the world will mark the 25thanniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. In his op-ed, Lavrov argues that today, the principles of democracy and market economics have become universal across the Euro-Atlantic region and as a result, Europe should serve as a model for the rest of the world. However, Lavrov warns that there continue to be issues between East and West that could lead to serious conflicts. RBTH rounds up Lavrov’s nine key messages.

1. On the EU’s attitude to Russia

The Western media have launched an anti-Russian information campaign, with rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War. At the center of this campaign in the European media is the situation in Ukraine. The most divisive issue is that of the proposed EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which was drafted as part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership program.

2. On Eastern Partnership

The proponents of Eastern Partnership initially claimed that the program would do nothing to encourage any kind of conflict, but now Russia’s and the European Union’s common neighbors are being told to choose sides, to decide whether they are with Europe or with Russia.

Such an approach runs counter to the cause of removing any dividing lines in Europe, a cause that is endorsed in OSCE documents and other agreements. It looks more like another attempt to push the dividing lines farther eastwards.

3. On relations between Russia and Ukraine

Russia has always been a staunch advocate of the notion that it is the sovereign right of each individual country to determine the path of its national development and to choose membership in various alliances. Russia has always realized that integration can only be strong and sustainable if it is based on mutual interests.

4. On EU policies

Russia expected that its European partners would demonstrate the same kind of respect for the Ukrainian people’s right to choose their own destiny. Russia was unpleasantly surprised when it turned out that as far as the EU and the United States are concerned, the Ukrainian people’s “free” choice has already been made for them, and that Ukraine’s future undoubtedly “lies with Europe.”

Those arguing that Ukraine should follow the same path that Poland and other East European countries have already taken are clearly missing a crucial point: Kiev is not being offered a clear prospect of EU membership any time soon. It is merely being told unilaterally to accept the conditions dictated by Brussels, including the complete removal of barriers that hold back the EU’s trade expansion.

5. On the current situation in Ukraine

The situation in which the democratically expressed will of the people is being substituted by “street democracy” – in which the opinion of several thousand protesters who are putting pressure on the government is being portrayed as "the voice of the people” – cannot be described as acceptable.

Rocking the boat in a country that lies at the heart of the European continent cannot be in anyone's interest. One cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that actions by the anti-government forces in Ukraine are increasingly showing a nationalist and extremist streak, and that anti-Russian rhetoric in some circles is going hand in hand with anti-Semitic and racist slogans.

6. The EU’s short-sighted approach

Attempts to turn a blind eye to all these things in order to portray the situation in the traditional light of "good” opposition against a “bad” government are shortsighted. The same applies to any attempts to ignore the reality and underestimate Europe’s own problems, including those in the area of ethnic relations and sectarian divisions. An old proverb comes to mind: "Those living in glass houses should not throw stones.”

7. Russia has no intention of joining the EU

The European Union’s traditional policy towards its neighbors is to seek an adoption of its own standards by these countries, and to expect them to follow the EU’s lead. Russia, however, does not aspire to EU membership. Cooperation between these two largest powers on the European continent can only be a relationship of two equals.

8. On the potential for Russia-EU cooperation

The potential for partnership between Russia and the EU is enormous. Russia and the EU are united by the mutually complementary and mutually dependent nature of their economies, as well as a common cultural heritage.

Russia supplies one-third of the EU’s demand for oil and natural gas, and almost a quarter of the demand for coal and petrochemicals. The European Union simply does not have another partner that could reliably supply so much energy.

9. Who should determine shared values?

Lavrov agrees with the notion that common values should cement the foundations of a shared European home. But Russia and the EU need to agree on what exactly those values are, and who determines them.

Russia believes that common values should be a product of mutual agreement, not an invention of some individual country or bloc. To that end, Lavrov points out that one of the founding principles of democracy is respect for others' opinions.

This article first appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines.