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What Russia Really Wants in Its Relations with Europe—Peace or War?

What Russia Really Wants in Its Relations with Europe—Peace or War?

H.E. Ilia Subbotin – Mr. Subbotin is Minister-Counselor of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in France.

Dear participants of today’s International conference, organized by the Schiller Institute,

Dear Ms. Zepp-LaRouche, Dear Mr. Cheminade,

Dear friends,

I’m stressing the word friends, because I really hope that this morning I speak in front of people, who are at least ready to listen and who do not have a “pre-cooked” vision of the international reality, like the one broadcast by the mainstream Western media.

From what I was able to find in open sources about the Schiller Institute and its founder, Lyndon LaRouche, I conclude that this audience will be able to think critically and to make its own conclusions.

The topic of today’s panel is “Peace in the world through architecture of security and mutual development, to the benefit of each and every country.” I will present to you a view, based on the official position of my country and on my personal experience, including 23 years of diplomatic service.

I remember vividly my first contacts with US high school students in 1990-91, during the last years of existence of the Soviet Union. There was a program called “Friendship Caravan,” under which young Americans were visiting Soviet schools, spending several days in Russian families. After decades of the Cold War it was a breath of fresh air. We were happy to make new friends. The future seemed bright and marvelous.

In July 1989 then-President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev visited Strasbourg and spoke in front of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). In that historic speech he put forward the idea of the “common European home” and called for substituting “the geopolitical balance with the balance of interests” in order to create the wide economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. I see here a link to Point 7 of Helga’s “10 principles for tomorrow’s world.”

That was the turning point of the Russian foreign policy. For 30 years after that speech, my country spared no efforts to build the common humanitarian, legal and economic space, which would cover Greater Europe. Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe from 1996 until March 2022 was the most visible proof of that course.

Before I continue on the track of European integration, allow me to draw your attention to one circumstance, which is key for understanding of the later developments. After the failed coup d’état of August 1991, in December of the same year the Soviet Union was peacefully dissolved. Let me stress the two opposite versions of what happened—the US leadership (namely President Bush, the father) already during the 1992 electoral campaign started to talk about the victory in the Cold War, and the collapse of the USSR because of that “victory.” For us in the former Soviet Union, the perception of the events was radically different. We never felt we had lost the Cold War. In fact, it was our President who stopped it. The disintegration of the USSR became a kind of “collateral damage” of the titanic shift in Russian policy. And, believe me, when it was happening, almost nobody understood what exactly was happening. Most of the people in former Soviet republics, except the Baltics and Georgia, wanted to continue living together. And I remember very well the feeling of the first months of 1992 that some kind of new union of the same republics would emerge very soon. The reality unfortunately turned out to be different. Deep economic crisis, unemployment, criminality, interethnic conflicts in a number of post-Soviet republics….

With all these difficulties Russia still stood firm in its desire to become a part of the Western world. In 1996 we joined the Council of Europe with its Court of Human Rights and many other institutes and instruments. In 2002 the NATO-Russia Council was created. As of 2003 we agreed with the European Union on the creation of four common spaces, which would cover economic issues; issues of freedom, security, and justice; external security; and, finally, research and education.

Meanwhile, in 2000 I graduated from the MGIMO University—the well-known Russian diplomatic school, and was appointed to my first diplomatic post, in Chile. Here I would like to recall one more personal episode from the late ’90s. In spring, 1999 I was doing a Master’s [degree] in international relations in Madrid, Spain. I lived in a shared flat with some other students, including a Yankee boy, called Stephen. We were going along quite well until NATO started to bomb Yugoslavia. For me this is another turning point of European history of the last 30 years. Russia today is accused of bringing the war back to Europe. As if the aggression against Yugoslavia never took place! On the night when Russian paratroopers took control of Pristina airport, we had a physical fight with my US neighbor. He started the fight, shouting something about “Russian pigs.” The US might be successful in Yugoslavia but not in Madrid flat…

In terms of Russia-West relations, the Kosovo crisis is well known by the U-turn of the Prime Minister Primakov’s plane over the Atlantic (24 March 1999) and the beginning of a U-turn in global Russian politics—although, as we know now, it took my country 20 more years to do the complete U-turn. The former prime minister and foreign minister Primakov was a truthful partisan of the concept of a multipolar world. In his active years in politics, he advocated for the multipolar system, which is becoming reality before our eyes now.

In 2007, I was for the first time appointed to Strasbourg, to the Russian permanent mission to the Council of Europe (CoE). Since then I have been dealing with the CoE file in different capacities. On February 10, 2007, President Vladimir Putin delivered his landmark Munich speech. He spoke about the indivisible nature of security, of the failure of the unipolar world (may be it was too premature, but seen from today, that was the right conclusion), of the excessive use of force by the US and NATO… Recalling the events of the late ’80s, President Putin stated clearly: “[T]he fall of the Berlin wall became possible thanks to [the] historic choice of [the] Russian people in favor of democracy, freedom, openness and sincere partnership with all members of the big European family.” And of course he was advocating for the more balanced system of security (Point 1 of Helga’s principles —international security and development architecture as a partnership between sovereign Nation-states).

Was my President heard in Munich? Judging by the events which followed, he was not. In August 2008 Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili attacked civilians and Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinval. Together with my colleagues I spent long hours of discussions in the Committee of Ministers to prove the obvious, that the attack was started by the Georgian side. An international inquiry commission headed by the Swiss Ambassador, Heidi Tagliavini, came to the same conclusion. However, none of these conclusions was able to correct the fact that an armed conflict between the Russian army and a US-trained and -equipped Georgian armed forces took place. Luckily, the war lasted only few days and, as we see now, became a very good vaccine for the Georgian society and leadership against any future attempts to start an armed conflict with Russia.

In 2009 we celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the Council of Europe. Former [Soviet] President Gorbachev was invited to pronounce the main speech at the solemn ceremony. On that occasion, I was lucky to spend three days with the man who had changed history. He is often seen in my country as too pro-European, but allow me to quote some key messages from his 2009 speech: “Europe hasn’t fixed the key question, namely, creation of the solid basis for peace, of the new security architecture.” President Gorbachev, not Putin, 2009. Another quotation: “[T]he roots of actual problems are in the wrong assessment of the events, related to the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union.”

Sorry for the prolonged excursion into the modern history, but I’m deeply convinced that to understand today’s reality, we must have a clear picture of what happened yesterday.

In 2012–2015 I was working as a seconded political advisor of the Council of Europe’s Brussels office. It was a unique chance to learn the “Brussels bubble.” Moreover, it was a period of time when foundations for the current Ukrainian crisis were laid. You might remember that the EU and Ukraine were negotiating an Association agreement with a free trade zone, which would enter into conflict with the already existing free trade zone between Russia and Ukraine. My close colleague and friend was among the top negotiators on our side at the EU-Russia talks to find way out of the dead end. According to him, there was no will [shown by] the EU side to come to mutually beneficial agreement during these talks. The refusal by [Ukrainian] President Yanukovich to sign the Association agreement was used to spark the Maidan coup d’état, which led to the civil war in Ukraine. And again, we witnessed the unwillingness of the Western leaders to implement the Minsk agreements, which stopped the open hostilities from 2015 till 2022.

Now we all have heard the confessions of [former French President] M. Hollande  and [former German Chancellor] Mme Merkel that they had no intention to implement the Minsk package and that the only goal of the deal was to give Ukraine more time to re-arm and conquer the rebel regions by force. What was the intention of the Russian leadership? For me the answer is quite clear—my President, supported by political class, wanted a genuine peace deal, of course on the decent conditions, where the key is recognition of Russia’s leading role in providing security in Europe. The guys in Washington, D.C., apparently did not see such a role for my country. To a large extent, this explains why we’re still in open conflict.

Let me go back to 2017. I took the post of Deputy Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, responsible for the Council of Europe file. My biggest headache was the institutional crisis. The Russian delegation in PACE was deprived of its key rights, and consequently my authorities decided to stop paying our contribution to CoE budget until these rights were fully restored. By Summer 2019, working closely with Secretary General Jagland and the reasonable part of the members of PACE, we were able to fix the problem. The Russian delegation returned to the Assembly with full rights. The Russian contribution to the CoE budget was fully paid. Would all this be possible without the genuine desire of my President, of our political class, to keep Russia as part of the Greater Europe? Definitely not! We were also lucky to have at that moment of history the responsible and independent leadership in the CoE (Jagland).

What happened next? Russia realized that the United States in Ukraine were preparing the worst scenario. We made the last effort—the “diplomatic offensive” of December 2021 – January 2022. It happened that I was able to discuss these events personally with two main Russian envoys—Deputy Minister Riabkov (he worked with the US) and Deputy Minister Grushko (he was in charge of NATO track). The parallel conclusion of both esteemed colleagues: there was no wish on the US/NATO side to seek any compromise with Russia.

In these circumstances, the special military operation became the just and non- alternative step to guarantee Russia’s security and to protect Russian people, whom the Kiev regime wanted to deprive of their language, religion, culture, values. What was the reaction of the West—hatred and mantra that the only way out is a “strategic defeat of Russia at the battlefield.” And no effort is spared to reach this aim—according to open sources, more than $150 billion has already been spent to arm Ukraine. By the way, a couple of years ago the G-20 agreed to accumulate $100 billion to help the green transition of the developing countries—this commitment has never been implemented!

Let me stress that it was not Russia that broke relations with Europe (that was exactly the case with our withdrawal from the Council of Europe). The breakup was the initiative of the Western countries (the second part of the title of our session, the essential strategic autonomy of the European states). I will not discover America if say that now there is no such autonomy and that the European political class is almost totally controlled by the US. Can this situation change? I hope so, and the fact that such organization as Schiller Institute exists, makes this hope stronger.

The Multipolar world is emerging. It’s a fact of life. New centers of economic [development] are here. The financial growth in China, India, Brazil, Turkey, and Gulf countries’ power and political influence go along with the economic success. The share of the G7 in the world’s GDP is already less than that of BRICS. The hegemon which loses its dominance reacts maliciously, by staging internal conflicts and wars between brotherly nations, like those in former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Will Washington be able to change the course of history? I do not think so. I am sure most politicians in the West understand this. The open question is, when will Europe—Germany and France primarily—wake up and free themselves from the shackles of US control? When and if this happens, Russia will be ready for mutually beneficial dialogue of equals, on the basis of our fundamental interests. We are not looking for self-isolation.

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