Thursday, June 21, 2018

Russia's EU representative: Financial crisis could help improve relationship

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's permanent representative to the EU, said just before a scheduled Russia-EU summit that the ongoing financial crisis could provide an opportunity for the two sides to improve their relationship.

"There are many factors that make Russia and the EU complement each other," Chizhov said, according to The Moscow Times. "Russia has a huge market that now also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan, while the EU has technological innovation that we need. Given these circumstances, I see a unique historical chance for our cooperation to move to a new level."

Russia has two bilateral summits with EU leadership twice a year, more than any other country in the world. The 31st summit this week will be attended by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign affairs chief. The EU delegation will also spend two days in talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Discussions will include the topics of bilateral and international issues such as visas and mobility, human rights and freedom, a new EU-Russia agreement and developments in Syria and North Korea.

After the U.S. and China, Russia is the third most important trading partner with the EU. The EU accounted for around half of Russia's exports last year, The Moscow Times reports.

The two sides may sign a new visa facilitation agreement that would allow long-term, multiple-entry travel to EU countries for Russian citizens. Chizhov says it is unlikely that the agreement will be signed at the summit.

Currently, service passports are issued to government officials if they need to travel on business, though some say the documents could be subject to corruption in Russia. Russia is also negotiating visa-free, short-term travel for Russians going to the EU and vice versa with Chizhov, saying negotiations on visa waiver agreements could be concluded by the end of the year, according to The Moscow Times.

Chizhov said the sides have already fulfilled requirements to pave the way to introducing a visa-free regime. Security, illegal migration and public order requirements have been filled. Only "external relations," which include human rights provisions, have not yet been negotiated.

Earlier last month, Russia and the EU held a human rights consultation, in which the EU called on Russia to refrain from adopting federal legislation banning "homosexual propaganda." It also raised concerns over a wave of NGO inspections under the basis of the "foreign agents" law. Chizhov expressed hope that the human rights issues would not be discussed at the summit, The Moscow Times reports.

The crisis in Syria is likely to be discussed after Russia lambasted the EU's repeal of the Syria arms embargo, prompting Moscow to fulfill arms delivery contracts with Damascus that were signed years ago.

Russia plans to deliver over 10 MiG fighter planes to the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, fulfilling the 2007 contract, though a source says that the shipment of a S-300 anti-aircraft missile system would not reach Syria until the middle of next year, according to The Moscow Times.