At the Rome meeting of Russia’s highly respected Valdai Discussion Club with Italy’s International Affairs Institute (IAI) on April 18 on the subject of EU-Russia relations, I was most surprised that during the two hours of in-depth discussions on key issues dividing Russia and the European Union such as Ukraine and Crimea, no specific mention was made of the USA by name. Once, perhaps a slip of tongue by a Russian speaker, the name “Obama” was spoken, while the Italians occasionally used the term the “West” instead of EU. However, no mention of USA/NATO. The uninformed auditor would have had no idea of the U.S. “occupation” of Europe, that the Ukraine mess was U.S. instigated and exists as a result of an illegal coup d’état in Kiev, that traditionally Russian Crimea is an issue because America wanted it for its own use (or more), that the U.S. is arming and upping its presence in the Baltic states right on Russia’s border, and that U.S. has a strategy for the ironclad encirclement of Russia, and above all that the EU is a very junior partner of the USA in Europe and influences every aspect of EU relations with Russia.
I assume there was a diplomatic agreement between Valdai and the Italian IAI to keep the United States out of the discussion which made possible the very professional and frank exchange of opinions.
The Valdai Club, established in 2004 and based in Moscow, has acquired an international repute as a venue for world experts to engage with Russian scholars, politicians and government officials. President Putin attended the previous session of Valdai and answered directly questions from journalists present. The IAI likewise organizes conferences, in Italy and abroad, in order to promote an understanding of international problems. It is funded by international organizatons, foundations and Italy Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Both Russian and Italian participants agreed that a crisis-deadlock exists, yet, as above, no one ever suggested the real problem exists across the Atlantic. Russia-EU relations are a low point,” said Timofei Bordachev, an expert in European and international studies. “Ukraine”, he suggests, “was the result of bad relations which came about as a result of the political order in Europe after the Cold War,” intimating, I assume, the dominant U.S. role. “Relations must be improved. And why not? We both want trade relations and cooperation on immigration but the EU is a tough negotiator. We would like clarification the TTIP. What will it mean? The reality is that though we are not together, we can be good neighbors. Above all we need ‘procedures’. We need more openness. More mutual recognition. Russia wants more ties with the EU. We do not wan to create obstacles. Today, China is our major trade partner, Germany second. We want more with the EU.”
The Chair, the Italian Ettore Greco, IAI Director, optimistically suggested despite disagreement on Ukraine, other area exist for cooperation such as Iran, Syria and Asia in general. (At the risk of repeating myself ad nauseum, I insist that fruitful discussion of EU international relations is impossible without mention of the USA and NATO as well. Valdai must find a diplomatic manner to discuss international relations recognizing realistically the central role, the hegemony of the USA in most every significant aspect.)
The IAI position is tough. Nona Mikhelidze, a beautiful young lady of the IAI, though charming and well-prepared was more aggressive, leaving little space for compromise. After mentioning an ideological dispute, she pointed out that Central Asia and places like Moldova are problematic. She mentions the Nagorno-Karabach conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory inside Azerbaijan populated chiefly by Armenians, which declared itself an independent republic igniting tensions and violence in the area between the two countries. The Italian speaker asked the Russians who should settle the dispute? When the Russians shot back “Russia”, the Italians ladies guffawed. Before pointing out that Armenia was on the point of joining the EU, which I consider so much nonsense and surely of U.S. origin, perhaps seeing there another Kosovo in the making. Armenia, not only Asian but also the enemy of Turkey, also aspiring to EU membership. The EU still thinks the break-up of Yugoslavia and the creation of Kosovo fine ideas! However, Armenia suddenly changed its mind and opted for membership in Russia’s Asian Economic Union. The EU, she said frankly cannot guarantee there will be no demonstrations and disorders inside Russia. (Another difficulty in Russia-EU negotiations without the USA).
The Italians asked point blank whether Russia prefers a united and cohesive EU to deal with or a disunited EU, thus permitting bilateral relations like with Germany. Ms Mikhelidze, by the way, a Georgian name, summed up Italian and/or EU fears that beyond today’s deadlock in its relations with Russia lies another deadlock.
Thus, my overall impression that Russia-EU relations are worse than one believes, and further I believe the USA is responsible. Europe is theirs and they will keep it under an iron hand.
Fydor Lukyanov,, Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, was more optimistic. “Although a strategy of our relations is impossible today, things will change tomorrow. That is the reality. The Ukraine crisis will end and we will need a new relationship. It is senseless to argue over who is right and who is wrong. Russia, since 1989, has wanted to be part of the European sphere. Right or wrong, partnership will not be total until the scene changes. Also because, for Russia, Asia is there. Russia does not want to be European any more than Asian. Remember that three-fourths of Russia lies in Asia, but three-fourths of Russians live in the Russia of the European sphere. Russia is at a crossroads to overcome its past. Europe is also at a crossroads. The EU will not disappear but it will change. In ten years Europe will look different.
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