Borrell in Moscow: There are issues on which we can and must work together

“Events both at home and abroad make it difficult to have the relationship that we dreamt of in the 1990s”

Photo: EU Josep Borrell (L) and Sergei Lavrov (R).

The purpose of my visit today is to discuss the challenges we are facing, including issues where our views diverge and to listen to each other’s concerns, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said during the press conference he held on Friday morning in Moscow, together with Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov. It took place after the first session of their talks.

We have to recognise that, over the last years, our relations have been marked by fundamental differences and a lack of trust and we are seeing each other more as a competitor or rival, rather than a partner, the EU High Representative/Vice-President stressed.

However, he also underscored that the EU is Russia’s first trading partner and greatest source of foreign direct investment. “Russia is our biggest neighbour; it is part of Europe. Engagement with Russia is therefore of key importance for the European Union.”

Borrell stated as well that events both at home and abroad make it difficult to have “the relationship that we dreamt of in the 1990s, when we talked about a Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok”. This is today much more difficult than 20 or 30 years ago, he opined.

“My visit coincides with the arrest and sentencing of Alexei Navalny, and the arrest of thousands of demonstrators. As you can expect, I have conveyed to Minister Lavrov our deep concern and reiterated our appeal for his release and the launch of an impartial investigation over his poisoning.”

While we fully respect Russia’s sovereignty and its own responsibility regarding the fulfilment of its international commitments, the European Union considers that issues related to the rule of law, human rights, civil society, and political freedom are central to a common future, both for the European Union and Russia, Borrell pointed out.

But at the same time, there are issues on which we can and must work together, because when we do, we achieve good results, he said agreeing with Russia’s top diplomat, and mentioning areas such as culture, research, health, facing Covid-19, the Arctic, climate, digital. “We have a lot of things that can be done to deepen engagement from both sides and benefit in a tangible way.”

Josep Borrell also agreed with his host that there are "places and issues" on the international arena on which both sides can also work together, mentioning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as a good example.

“On the Middle East Peace Process, we agree on the need to engage in this process, to reinvigorate the Quartet and to try to work together and engage also the new United States administration.”

According to Borrell, fighting climate change and environmental challenges will give also a lot of opportunities to cooperate. “We count on Russia to make a success of the next Glasgow (UN COP26) conference and to cooperate in order to prepare for the new environment where the consumption of fossil fuels will decrease.”

In line with the Helsinki Final Act, stability in Europe must be based on cooperation, respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of nations, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, EU foreign policy chief emphasised, noting that in this framework, the both sides need to find spaces for understanding and to build mutual trust.

Saying that this is the first step, Borrell restated that “We will continue to disagree on several things, but we have to look for places in which we can agree and cooperate”.


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