Russia is Europe’s natural ally

By Vladimir Putin, president of Russia (THE TIMES, 25/03/07):

Two thousand years ago Roman soldiers united enormous territories from Britain to Athens, from the Rhine to the Iberian peninsula, by the sword. Europe has survived many destructive wars and the collapse of empires. It overcame the dictatorship of tyrants and the horrors of Nazism, but at the same time lived through the Renaissance and sowed the seeds of democracy. It was Europe that formulated the noble ideas of humanism and the Enlightenment, which formed the foundation of European civilisation.

As often happens, history made an astonishing turn — it was in Rome, the Eternal City, where 50 years ago treaties were signed that laid the foundation for a new association of European nations, based not on force or coercion but on common aspirations and values.

The treaties of Rome were in many respects innovative and almost revolutionary for their time. Many wounds of the second world war had still not healed. But the signatory countries demonstrated the political will to work out a joint strategy of cooperation and integration while overcoming the burdens of the past.

The founding fathers of the pan-European movement dreamt about “the prosperity, peace and independence of the continent”. They were right in guessing the future, realising that security and wellbeing are indivisible. The establishment of the European communities on March 25, 1957 had an enormous influence in shaping contemporary Europe. European Union states have been able to further the rights and freedoms of citizens and achieve economic and social progress.

But it was only the end of the cold war that brought about real conditions for the fulfilment of the “fundamental” European idea — the unification of the continent. This was “the peace dividend” following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The Russian people’s choice in the early 1990s did not merely expand the space of freedom on the continent but actually determined the path of further European integration.

In many respects this choice was defined by the history of Russia. In terms of spirit and culture Russia is an integral part of European civilisation. Our people made an invaluable contribution to its development.

The history of relations between Russia and Europe is one of mutual influence and benefit. St Petersburg, my native city, became a magnificent northern capital thanks to architects and artists from western Europe. Symbolically, the people of the city withstood a 900-day blockade by fascist troops in the second world war, heroically resisting a barbaric ideology that was and is the very antithesis of everything “European”.

Russia has shared all the triumphs and tragedies of Europe. We have twice played a decisive role in disrupting attempts to unite Europe by force, the last time in the second world war. Today’s European project, based on the goodwill of Europeans, would have been infeasible without this.

Today, building a sovereign democratic state, we share the values and principles of the vast majority of Europeans. Respect for international law, rejection of force to settle international problems and preference for strengthening common approaches in European and global politics are factors that unite us. In our joint work within the United Nations, the G8 and other forums, we always feel we share a common view of the world.

A stable, prosperous and united Europe is in our interests. European integration is an integral part of the emerging multipolar world order. That the EU is becoming an increasingly authoritative and influential centre of world politics, considerably contributing to regional and global security, is important.

The development of multifaceted ties with the EU is Russia’s principled choice. In the foreseeable future, for obvious reasons, we have no intention of either joining the EU or establishing any form of institutional association with it. Russia intends to build its relations with the EU on a pragmatic basis with a treaty and a strategic partnership. In this regard I agree with Romano Prodi’s view of Russian-EU relations: “Anything but institutions.”

We are prepared to develop this partnership to a maximum extent, expecting of course that our partners will meet us halfway along this road.

The interests of Russia and the EU will not always coincide. Competition is the reverse side of cooperation and an integral part of the process of globalisation. At the same time, one should not see political intrigues behind purely economic measures. One should not superimpose cold war ideological labels on legal and quite understandable actions aimed at protecting our national interests. Let me say again: we are ready to settle differences through open dialogue and compromise, based on mutually agreed rules.

I am convinced that the development of relations between Russia and the EU has logically led us to the need for a new treaty on strategic partnership. The treaty should become an instrument capable of ensuring a higher level of economic integration and interaction, providing for freedom and security on the European continent. We understand all the difficulties of our partners in developing one position. We agree that it takes time. It is also clear that any pause in the dialogue is always going to be counterproductive.

There is much to discuss together. The choice to be made will determine the outlook of the continent for decades to come. We should not let bloc mentalities prevail in European politics, nor should we allow new dividing lines to appear on our continent or unilateral projects to be implemented to the detriment of the interests and security of our neighbours. We expect the evolution of the EU will serve to strengthen the unity of our common continent.

I am convinced that only on a genuinely collective, trustworthy basis can we find solutions to the world’s challenges and threats: the question of antimissile defences in Europe, the stabilisation of Afghanistan, international terrorism, the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and global poverty. Russia stands ready for that. I hope the choice will be made in favour of mutual efforts to construct our common future.

Half a century ago six European nations, principally the French and the Germans, decided to put aside former enmities and, as Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has noted, “grow together”. The people of the new democratic Russia want their country to be a prosperous power, living a dignified life in friendship and harmony with their neighbours.

We wish our European partners success and count on continuing fruitful cooperation for the benefit of peace and progress.