Friday

5th Mar 2021

Opinion

An 'aide-mémoire' for the Moscow visit

  • A 'business-as-usual' policy towards Vladimir Putin's administration is counterproductive (Photo: Polish embassy)

No matter whether it is a multi-billion project such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline or a courtesy visit to the Kremlin, the current circumstances concerning Alexei Navalny's case, as well as the past track record of breaking international law, make "business as usual" policy towards Vladimir Putin's administration counterproductive.

How events such as the aggression on Georgia in 2008, the 2014 annexation of Crimea and waging war over other Ukrainian territories resulting in thousands of casualties, the shooting down of a passenger plane over Ukraine, political assassinations and poisonings, suggest that another pipeline circumventing EU's eastern neighbours, who count on our support, will change the odds in dealings with the Russian Federation?

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Many raised objections and shared concerns about the plans and the timing of the high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy visit to Moscow this week.

Navalny's arrest, the tragi-comic farce of his "trial" and two subsequent weekends of mass protests (brutally squashed by the authorities), made this concerns even more justified.

Poles, experienced by history, understand the importance of human and civil rights in a way few other nations do.

Poland has recently gone through a difficult path of systemic transformation, which resulted in a spectacular economic boom.

Observing what is happening in Belarus and with human rights in Russia, Europeans now strongly sympathise with the people struggling in the uneven fight against oppressive authorities.

Russian Federation and the EU member states are members of the same international organisations, where we have undertaken serious commitments to human rights.

This is why, the violation of those rights and commitments by Moscow, de facto fighting its own citizens like enemies, is not only Russia's domestic affair, but it requires a strong response of the West, including the EU.

This is one of the main reasons why Poland continues to oppose the construction of Nord Stream 2.

Giving up this project now would be the right and strong enough message, demonstrating that EU member states are being united in condemning the violations of international laws and human rights by the Kremlin.

Abandoning NS2 is the decision Berlin should also take for the sake of the unity of Nato, which is the only organisation capable of containing Russia's aggressive policies towards its neighbours.

Poland – same as the other EU member states – is interested in improving the relations with Russia. However, this requires a real constructive engagement by the Russian side. There are many ways in which Moscow could demonstrate its willingness to engage on a path to seriously improving relations.

Nobody in Poland will ever forget about the plane crash in Smolensk that killed president Lech Kaczyński together with 95 highest-ranking officials in 2010.

Returning the presidential plane wreckage, which regardless of the international law and standards is being kept in Russia, with Polish prosecutors and forensic investigators facing multiple obstacles to access the site, could be one of the first steps towards some level of normalisation.

Same goes for the immediate release of Navalny, full implementation of the Minsk agreements by Moscow and respect for the territorial integrity of other countries.

Relations with Russia remain a challenge for the EU and require strategic patience.

The recent developments show that we may need more patience than expected, and some tough decisions have to be taken before the first results will be achieved. It is better to give up Nord Stream 2 at this stage than to give up the chance for Russia to reconsider its actions.

The hostilities such as the cyberattacks, disinformation, election meddling and hybrid threats will not stop if we are not united in the EU in working together to discourage Moscow from engaging in them.

Author bio

Ambassador Andrzej Sadoś is the permanent representative of Poland to the EU.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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