EU Russia summit
Delivered in Plenary - 9th May 2007
EU-Russia relations ahead of the forthcoming summit are at a critical juncture: we are facing a serious crisis over the relocation of the Soviet Memorial Statue in Tallinn.
Coming from the UK, a country that has mercifully never had to face Soviet hegemony directly, it is easy for me to question the wisdom of the political decision to relocate the statue, and with it the fallen Russian soldiers, to a military cemetery. Nevertheless, it is clearly a sovereign right of the Estonian Government and was conducted lawfully under international law. It is neither acceptable for Russia to call for the resignation of the Estonian Government nor for it to foment unrest – through the extremist nationalist grouping Nashi – against the Estonian mission in Moscow. I personally protested to the Deputy Foreign Minister when I was in Moscow a few weeks ago about the same treatment meted out to the British Ambassador, Anthony Brenton, who was harassed for attending the Kasparov rally.
Russia must now wake up to the new geopolitical reality that the so-called ‘near abroad’, where it calls the shots, no longer exists. It must now respect the sovereignty of these new countries, like Estonia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, etc.
I consider myself a friend of Russia and, particularly, its very rich culture, and believe the EU needs a strong, united Russia, as it needs us, but also a Russia that upholds its international obligations, as a member of the OSCE and of the Council of Europe, to respect democracy and human rights, particularly in Chechnya and over press freedom. Bullying its neighbours is not helpful, particularly when they can now call on the support of an EU and NATO firmly resolved to show strong solidarity over issues like the ban on meat from Poland and the Estonia statue issue we are discussing today.
We need Russia, not only as a reliable trading partner for its oil and gas, but also for its support in containing nuclear proliferation by Iran and North Korea in the Security Council, restarting the Arab-Israeli peace process, finding acceptable solutions to the frozen conflicts from Transnistria and Georgia to Nagorno-Karabakh and containing the despotic regime in Belarus. We also need Russia to sign up to an emissions limitation strategy as a signatory of Kyoto, as we all face the common perils of global warming, and Russia, of course, has a large Arctic presence that would be seriously affected by global warming.
We support Russia’s desire to join the WTO, as we believe making it subject to a rules-based system of multilateral trade will enable complaints to be lodged if it attempts again to arbitrarily impose trade bans, as it did on the issue of the wine ban against Moldova and the mineral water ban on Georgia.
I am sensitive to Russian worries; indeed, they are almost paranoid over their demographic population crisis in future – they are losing some 700 000 citizens every year – and many EU Member States also share the same future challenge. However, I also believe strongly that allowing Russia to probe our weaknesses by splitting the individual EU Member States is not in any of our long-term interests.