The 32nd EU-Russia Summit took place in Brussels on January 28, becoming an unusual event for more reasons than one. Firstly, the summit, involving official delegations led, on the one hand, by the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, and on the other, by Russian President Vladimir Putin, lasted for just 2.5 hours instead of the usual two days; traditional dinner was cancelled, too. Secondly, as media stressed on the eve of the meeting, the events in Ukraine became one of the central themes to be discussed at the EU-Russia summit. Let us recall that back in early January, the European Commission’s spokesperson announced that “in view of the recent developments” all summit events would take place in one day. Thus, this formal meeting evolved into an informal one. For its part, the Russian president’s aide Yuri Ushakov said before the summit that the parties did not plan to sign any documents. Somehow, Ushakov saw it as a positive, saying that such a framework would enable the parties to hold “an informal, thorough, confidential and open conversation covering the entire spectrum of important issues, including the common vision of the prospects for Russia-EU relations.” However, the presidential aide added: “When explaining to us the reasons for narrowing the parameters of the summit, our hosts emphasized the need for in-depth discussion of key issues, because a lot of problems have accumulated in our relationship, including, of course, those related to the implementation of the Eastern Partnership, especially given the Ukrainian situation.”
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in late December that he planned to discuss with Putin pressure which Russia applied to Ukraine and other Eastern European nations. However, as the BBC noted, representatives of the Russian side showed little willingness to discuss the situation in Ukraine so far.
Still, the Russian leadership has lately been seen commenting on the events in Ukraine and discerning the West’s hand in them, as well as quite improperly discussing the Ukrainian issue with other countries’ representatives. We had it confirmed lately by the Russian Foreign Ministry’s report that Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov discussed the political crisis in Ukraine during a phone call with President of the Swiss Confederation, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, OSCE Chairman Didier Burkhalter. The RIA Novosti reported on January 28 that “although the situation in Ukraine is absent from the official agenda of the summit, European partners say they intend to raise this issue. The Russian side says, for its part, that no agreements between the EU and Kremlin should be expected on this issue, as Russia is not going to sign anything behind the Ukrainian partners’ back.”
On the other hand, the EU’s vision for this summit was totally different. According to Financial Times, the EU was prepared “for a bruising encounter with Putin over Ukraine,” because they believed that Russia played a key role in the current political crisis in Kyiv, and EU leaders intended to tell it directly to the Russian leader. The newspaper also quoted an unnamed senior European official, who said: “This is not a ‘business as usual’ summit. It is time to speak frankly, maybe, deescalate situation somewhat and find out how we should develop our relationship.” The diplomat added that the EU wanted to focus on Russia’s use of economic pressure against its neighbors, including Ukraine. The EU believes that pressure of the Kremlin was a reason behind President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych’s decision in November 2013 to abandon plans to sign an association agreement with the EU.
As this issue was going to the press, we did not know yet the results of the summit, as well as the kind of impression which frank talk with European leaders left on the Russian leader. We did not know also whether the Europeans would be able to persuade the Kremlin during that “bruising encounter,” to use the British newspaper’s words, into stopping pressuring Ukraine and generally leaving it alone, free to realize its desire to be in the European family.
By the way, the Russian authorities should pay attention to the words of political scientist and Jimmy Carter-era national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who twitted: “Russians, wake up! Russia-backed repression in Ukraine will turn eventually into a disaster for Russia itself.” There is no need to remind he predicted the fall of the Soviet Union. Therefore, one would probably do well to pay attention to his words.