Interview With EU Ambassador to Russia: Part 1

February 3, 2014
EU Ambassador to Russia Vygaudas Ušackas | Kommersant

A pro-Kremlin Russian media outlet, Kommersant, has held a question and answer session with the EU’s ambassador to Russia, Vygaudas Ušackas, in which they discuss relations between Moscow and Brussels. This is the first part of the interview. The second part can be found here. – Ed.

Several days before the latest Russian-European Union (EU) summit in Brussels, Kommersant conducted an online interview with Vygaudas Ušackas, head of the EU office in Russia. More than 100 questions came in to the editorial office from readers. We have selected the most relevant and those most repeated to give to Amb. Ušackas.

Mr. Ambassador, why does the European Union believe it has the right to impose its ideology on Russia and other countries, whose ideology and tradition has existed for tens of centuries, that is, much longer than the EU itself?

I am convinced that it is impossible to impose ideology on any society. Every country develops in its own way and has its own traditions and its own experience. Especially such a country as Russia.

On the other hand, the EU and Russia are the closest partners. We have a common history, in which various things happened, we live on the same continent and the most important – we are destined to create our common future together. I am absolutely convinced of that. Therefore it is important that there is mutual trust (not only between leaders of countries, but between journalists, and civil society) and also a common understanding of values – respect for human rights, freedom of opinion and different political views, and observance of the rights of sexual minorities. These fundamental principles are not imposed, but are proposed as rules for communication and cooperation. Also important is respect for international agreements and the principle by which pressure should not be placed on neighbors’ free choice. For example, such countries as Ukraine.

Hello! The EU (along with the US) keeps interfering in the internal politics of other countries, including Russia and Ukraine, and continues to impose its pseudo-democratic values, demonstrating the policy of double standards. Perhaps you should refrain from pressure on Ukraine and sponsoring nationalist forces? Do you really not understand that with such actions you are bringing schism to society and enabling the overthrow of the state with the removal from power of a lawfully elected president (even if he is not right about everything)? Thanks!

Both sides – the EU and Russia – must respect Ukraine as a sovereign, independent state. We were concerned at what we saw – pressure on the leaders of Ukraine. In the fall, they changed their opinion and rejected the agreements that we were already intending to sign. What is happening now is the response of people who are unhappy at the changes that occurred as a result of pressure on Ukraine from abroad.

We followed the escalation of the situation in Ukraine with great concern. The EU is prepared to facilitate a search for a political solution of the problem. with that purpose, today [January 24—ed.] European Commissioner Štefan Füle [European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy] is coming to Kiev, and the following week, a delegation of high-ranking representatives of the European Parliament will come headed by Catherine Ashton [High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union]. They will meet with President Yanukovych, with members of the opposition and representatives of civil society.

We believe that the resolution of the crisis is in the hands of the Ukrainians themselves. They themselves must take steps so that it is found, through dialogue of various political players.

I also wanted to point out that the actions of the EU within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Program is an integral part of our goal to create a common economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Everyone wins from it – Russia, the EU, and the countries of the Eastern Partnership.

One of the terms for signing the association agreement between Ukraine and the EU was the release of former prime minister Yuliya Timoshenko from jail. The same condition for Georgia is a pledge to refrain from judicial prosecution of former president Mikheil Saakashvili. Why did Brussels make a decision about the guilt or innocence of certain citizens of countries that are not members of the EU? Shouldn’t a court make these decisions?

That is precisely why we insisted that the Ukrainian court be independent and make decisions without any political pressure. We believe, unfortunately, that selective justice still takes place in Ukraine. But the most important thing is to respect the decisions of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, their sovereign choice.

Ukraine is our common neighbor. We are convinced that signing the association agreement does not mean a break in good-neighbor relations and an end to free trade between Russia and Ukraine. And if we are neighbors who wish Ukraine well, then we must help her undertake structural reforms in the economy, and we must call on Ukrainian leaders and politicians to respect the rule of law.

Good day. In Latvia, an EU country, for more than 20 years, the rights of the so-called non-citizens have been violated, mainly the Russian-speaking residents of the republic. The non-citizens are harmed in their rights on approximately 80 points, including the right to vote. Do you believe that this phenomenon is normal for a modern, democratic Europe? What is the EU leadership doing to eliminate this factor?

First, I must note that the number of non-citizens in Latvia in recent years has been sharply reduced. This is a result of both membership of Latvia in the EU as well as steps that are constantly being taken by the Latvian government. Second, this is important to note: even if some of those living in Latvia are not citizens, they are guaranteed all social and economic rights, there is no discrimination. Third, 98% of the children who are born in Latvia become citizens of the country.

And fourth, which is the most interesting. Every year, we see more and more Russians who come to Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, who buy real estate in these countries, and do business. Look at Jurmala, for example. That is one of the most famous areas to which citizens of Russia travel, they spend the summer there, they take part in the festival, because they like European order, European service. Recently I saw statistics for where Russians go during Christmas and New Year’s holidays. After Paris and Prague, there are two cities: Vilnius and Tallinn. People will not travel to places where it is unpleasant and uncomfortable.

I urge all Russian friends to visit the Baltic countries, to re-acquaint themselves with them and see how much their residents are hospitable regarding Russian citizens. We had bitter and difficult times, but we are close neighbors who much communicate and be friends.

Funerals with state honors for former veterans of the SS and the honoring of Nazi criminals in the countries of the Baltic – are these common European values or an outrage against the memory of millions of women, children, and elderly people, of wounded and war prisoners , tortured and murdered in death camps, in the occupation? Thank you.

This is not the position of countries or the governments. We do not support actions in the nature of fascistic events. If certain events are held, then they are exclusively private initiatives of citizen and furthermore are not of a negative nature.

Hello! Every year, my wife and I travel to Europe several times. Our daughter studies in Malta. We have to constantly apply for visas, this is very inconvenient. When can we travel to the European Union without visas. Thank you.

Mr. Ušackas! We get the impression that the countries of Europe are only pretending that they want to remove the problem of visas between the Russian Federal and the EU, but in fact, they are just dragging out this decision. Meanwhile, you introduce visa-free travel for citizens of Bulgaria, Romania and soon Moldova. By what parameters is Russia worse than these countries?

It is well know that Russian tourists are generous and could make a useful contribution to the economies of the countries of the Eurozone. Tell us, what fears prevent a positive decision on visas?

We are also interested in having the citizens of the EU travel to Russia without visas. These are bilateral negotiations. Back in 2011, our leaders came to an agreement about how we will work in order to achieve a visa-free regimen. In December 2013, on behalf of the European Commission, I presented the first report on joint steps toward the abolition of visas, where the progress which Russia had achieved was recorded. Positive steps are obvious. For example, the documents of Russians have become more secure. But in the report, problematic points (there are more than 40) are outlined which are necessary to overcome for the start of talks on a visa-free regimen.

The EU is interested in a visa-free regime. Ordinary people win from it as well as business and larger politics. But it is necessary to keep in mind that Russia is a big country, and there are concrete issues which I noted in the report, which we have to work on.

Dear Mr. Ušackas! What explains the negative attacks of some EU citizens (including those publicly well-known) against Russia concerning the rights of sexual minorities? It has been constantly said that no one persecutes or harasses representatives of the LGBT community.

As I already said, we do not interfere in the internal affairs of the Russian Federal. But we are interested in building our relations on the basis of a firm understanding and respect of the principles of human rights, including for sexual minorities. We think that the laws passed recently (not only about the propaganda of homosexuality among minors but about NGOs) introduce restrictions that are unhelpful to the expression of free opinion and greater understanding of the rights of minorities.

In that connection, we have noted that President Putin and other high-ranking persons also understand the importance of the creation of favorable conditions for various peoples with various orientations, and they acknowledge that no discrimination should take place during the Olympics in Sochi, or after them.

But why does no one call for a boycott of the World Soccer Championship in Qatar, where there is strict prosecution of representatives of sexual minorities? Nobody boycotted the Olympics in China, where there aren’t any rights for sexual minorities at all…

I love sports; I play basketball, tennis and golf. I hope that the Sochi Olympics will become a wonderful festival for athletes. To answer your question, I will say: every country of the EU decides itself at which level it will take part in this sports festival.