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Ms President, dear Members of the European Parliament,
Our relations with Russia, from these three events that the President has mentioned, show that our relations with Russia continue deteriorating. These three particular issues that you want us to address today are clear examples of that.
[First,] Russia’s destabilising policy against Ukraine. Despite ongoing withdrawal of its military from the Ukrainian borders, that is good news, but they were there for a long time with a lot of resources.
Second, the worrisome internal developments, particularly the case of Mr [Alexei] Navalny. Yes, he went out of his hunger [strike], but what has happened has happened.
And third, the recent diplomatic crisis, after findings of criminal acts in the Czech Republic carried out by Russian intelligence services, as the Czech Republic authorities claim.
Our relations with Russia are, once again, at a low point. Unfortunately, we cannot discard that this negative trend continues, and that we reached even more dangerous levels of deterioration. Without wanting to feed further a dynamic of escalation – nothing would be further from my intention – we do not want to feed the dynamics of escalation, let it be clear, we nevertheless assure you that we will not accept intimidating tactics. We have to respond to them if they happen.
Let us go first to the Russian military aggression against Ukraine.
The recent military build-up in the proximity of Ukrainian borders, more than 100,000 soldiers, and in illegally annexed Crimea has severely aggravated the security situation in the region.
Last week, we had an in-depth exchange with the European Union Foreign Ministers and the Ukrainian Foreign Minister [Dmytro] Kuleba. And our message was clear: Russia’s actions are completely unacceptable and we firmly support the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders. Russia must cease its provocations and cooperate on a de-escalation of the tensions, instead of portraying itself as a neutral mediator. That is what Russia is doing now, ‘We do not have anything to do with the conflict in Ukraine’, they are just there to try to mediate in external problems in which they do not intervene directly. This pretension must be debunked.
Because up to now Russia has shown no willingness to end the conflict on terms that would safeguard Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.
For Russia, the full implementation of the Minsk agreements is not a key condition, for us it is, it is a key condition for a substantial improvement of our relations. For the European Union, an independent and prosperous Ukraine is an indispensable element of the European stability and security, and that is why we encourage Ukraine to continue the pace of reforms. Because [there is] nothing better to face Russia than to be a country with a fully democratic system, freed of corruption, and using our resources that we are very much ready to provide, to improve the quality of the governance of the country.
Looking ahead, we need to continue to pass coordinated messages of a steadfast support to Ukraine. I will participate in the Summit on the Crimean Platform this August. We should also stand ready to look into options for additional response, should Russia re-escalate or cross red lines.
Second, on the health situation of the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
There our voice has been very much strong and united. We made an European Union Statement on behalf of the 27, calling on Russian authorities to grant Mr Navalny immediate access to the doctors that he trusts. The Russian authorities are responsible for his safety and health and will be [held] accountable for it. Finally, last week, Mr Navalny was finally taken to a civilian hospital and examined by independent doctors as we were requesting. Soon after, he called off his hunger strike.
We will maintain our strong call, the same message with that I went to Moscow, to tell to the Russian Minister [of Foreign Affairs] eye to eye, face to face, the same message for a strong call ensuring the right conditions for Mr Navalny, his speedy recovery. On top of the international efforts, as you know, last Wednesday thousands of courageous people went to the streets across Russia to further demand freedom and justice.
Instead, in response, the Prosecutor’s Office has asked that Mr Navalny’s anti-corruption network be qualified as an extremist organisation. I certainly expressed our grave concerns about it yesterday.
I am quite pessimistic, unfortunately, we cannot expect that things will be improving during the next electoral process in Russia. The September Duma elections will bring more limitations to fundamental freedoms in the run-up to this election.
Third, on the involvement of Russian military intelligence in the explosion of an ammunition depot in the Czech Republic, in 2014. It is true it was seven years ago but even, it happened.
The conclusions by the Czech authorities that officers of the Russian military intelligence, the GRU, perpetrated these attacks, causing the death of two Czech citizens, are extremely serious. The fact that it happened seven years ago does not decrease the gravity of these acts. This is not about military intelligence: this is about a grave criminal offence that runs counter to Russia’s international obligations, and such behaviour cannot be accepted and that is why I have to insist once again on the idea that we have to use the three verbs that I use: to contain, to engage and to push-back.
I will go back to this idea after listening to all of you.
Let me clearly state our full support and solidarity with the Czech Republic. The asymmetric response by Russia expelling diplomats and now threatening with limitations in number of local staff is being met with a determinate response by the European Union and its Member States.
Dear members, I have to finish, but let me remind you that our policy framework towards Russia based on the five principles will continue. We will work on internal resilience, fighting against hybrid and cyber threats; strengthening our engagement with our Eastern neighbours; to assist the Russian people, stepping-up support for the Russian civil society and human rights defenders and by enhancing people-to-people contacts.
We will continue signalling to Russia that we are ready to engage in areas of clear interest. This is also true we have to engage. As I said contain, push-back and engage. Because we need to engage with Russia in areas, which are of clear shared interest, I mention the JCPOA, I can add climate change.
We need to maintain channels of communication with Moscow. I am ready to do so. And we stand also ready to improve relations if needed, if possible with the Russian government, if they show a genuine willingness to do so, and certainly in full respect of our values, principles and interests.
I have to say, to finish Ms President that unhappily I see a worrying trend of Russian authorities that seem to be choosing to deliberately deepen the confrontation with the West, with us, including through continuous attacks with disinformation and other negative activities.
We must therefore define a modus vivendi that will avoid permanent confrontation with a neighbour who seems to have decided to act as an adversary.
I am looking forward to listening to you, to know your positions, that I know will be many and varied, and to take some stock of it in my concluding remarks, because I think that we have to be prepared for a long and hard period in our relations with Russia.
Thank you, Ms President, thank you Members of the European Parliament for having this opportunity, let us make good use of it.
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