‘EU has very poor capability in terms of understanding Russia’s concerns’

The House of Lords meets in a chamber in the Palace of Westminster (Image from wikipedia.org)
A report on EU-Russia relations by a UK House of Lords committee admits that the EU totally miscalculated Moscow’s reaction to the developments in Ukraine because of a lack of Russian experts, says Lord Peter Truscott.

Britain's House of Lords has been debating a report suggesting relations between the EU and Russia have reached a critical level. The text looks at tensions caused by events in Ukraine, and concludes Moscow has been gradually turning away from Europe.

RT:What was the main message to come out of this debate about the EU's relations with Russia?

Peter Truscott: The first thing that was said was the EU totally miscalculated Russia’s reaction to the Association Agreement which was proposed with Ukraine and also Ukraine joining NATO. The EU was totally unprepared for the hostile reaction that both those proposals had. The report from the EU Committee of the House of Lords also said that Britain and other EU member states have got a very poor capability in terms of understanding Russia’s concerns, and there is a real lack of Russian experts both in Britain and across the EU.

RT:Have relations reached a point of no return, or is there still hope of a turnaround?

PT: I think there is still a hope of a turnaround because one of the things that the EU Select Committee report in the House of Lords said was that it’s very important to maintain a dialogue and engagement with Russia. One of things that could be done is that the EU could reconvene summits with Russia and there should be further discussions on the Minsk agreements that have been put forward. And even the Foreign Office minister today said that Britain has been taking a very hard line as far as the crisis in Ukraine is concerned, talked about the importance to maintain trade links with Russia, cultural links, and also maintaining diplomacy and engagement with Moscow. So there is a desire to maintain relations with Russia. But everyone accepts at the moment that relations are at a pretty low point. There is a lot of work that needs to be done.

Passers-by outside City Hospital No.3 in Shevchenko Boulevard in Donetsk's Kalininsky District after the building was hit with an artillery shell during the city's shelling by the Ukrainian army (RIA Novosti / Mikhail Parhomenko)

RT:The EU has pledged to drop sanctions if the agreements made in Minsk to bring peace to Ukraine are fulfilled. But is Russia the only side responsible for ensuring peace?

PT: It was interesting during the debate. It was quite a balanced debate, it was a quite fair report, I think. There were people taking a hard line on the crisis in Ukraine, and some people are trying to understand a bit more Russia’s position and where Russia was coming from. One of the peers in the debate said: “Well, the Minsk agreement is not just about Russia fulfilling the terms, but also Ukraine shouldn’t try to change the terms of the Minsk agreement either.” Although, there was a talk about sanctions being maintained until Minsk was fulfilled by the end of the year, the point was also made that Ukraine has to stand by its side of the bargain, it’s part of the agreement as well which talks about decentralization, more rights for Eastern Ukraine, and more a degree of autonomy for the Eastern Ukraine.

RT:British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon insisted today that NATO members like Romania and Britain will not be intimidated by Russia's threats.But isn't it this rhetoric by NATO members that is causing tension in the first place?

PT: I don’t think that any sort of this rhetoric is very helpful on either side. The idea that Russia is sort of saber rattling and that NATO members feel intimidated by Russia - it is a nonsense. When you consider NATO’s budget is ten times larger than Russia’s I don’t think NATO as an organization feels intimidated by Russia at all. In fact, Russia is showing through the various maneuvers that it has been undertaking that it is not going to be browbeaten by the West. But I do agree that it would be helpful if all sides turn down the rhetoric.

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