Eurocrat fantasies are keeping EU-Russia relations frozen

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande © Hannibal Hanschke
This week, Brussels hosts an EU-Russia summit, which has attracted plenty of Eurocrat big wigs. However, they haven’t invited any actual representatives of the Russian government, which renders the whole thing a sort of sad charade.

I’d like to think that I know a little bit about Russia. And this gives me the ability to suss out when others who pontificate on the subject boast considerably less knowledge than they purport to have. Aside from making the consumption of western media extremely frustrating, it also allows one to make a few conclusions from time to time.

One of those is complete exasperation with EU officials, who tend to have a schoolmaster type attitude to Moscow. That manifests itself in how they frequently treat their Russia counterparts like naughty boys who need to be lectured to and punished, rather than trying to understand their opposing point of view. Indeed, given the people often entertained in the EU capital, you can deduce that either most top Eurocrats have a sub-standard grasp of Russian affairs or way too much time on their hands. Or both.

The reason for my harsh judgement is playing out in Brussels this Wednesday and Thursday. Some genuine high-rankers - including Guy Verhofstadt, Rebecca Harms and Petras Auštrevičius - are attending a Russia event which is such a gigantic waste of time that if it were being held in my back garden, I’d draw the curtains. The aforementioned are big fish, but by EU standards Martin Schulz is a whale shark and he’s decided to show up too. Which only serves to demean his high office as ‘President of the EU parliament.’

The circus of which I speak is the 'Boris Nemtsov Forum,' organized by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former billionaire oligarch who is closely identified with Russia’s tumultuous nineties. It is named after an opposition figure who was tragically murdered last year, in a killing blamed by both his former colleagues and the authorities on Chechens.

Fragile Purpose

The gathering sets itself the lofty goal of facilitating “mutual understanding and to further the strengthening of relations between Russia and European countries.” Indeed, there’s even an explanation for how this will happen. “[It] must become a space for meetings and discussions featuring politicians, civil activists, representatives of the expert community, and business figures from both Russia and Europe," the website boldly states.

Now, doesn’t this sound fantastic? And I know what you are thinking: “With all these powerful Eurocrats in attendance, the guest list from the Moscow side must be equally stellar?” Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it’s not. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if you gave me half an hour, I could round up a more influential bunch of Russians in any decent restaurant within a mile of the Kremlin. Or 1,609 meters in Brussels’ speak.

Quite honestly, I have been staring at the list of speakers for some time now, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Because its a complete collection of non-entities. For instance, the most prominent politician mentioned is Vladimir Kara-Murza, the deputy leader of PARNAS, a party which received 0.73 percent of the vote in September’s Russian Parliamentary elections, or 384,675 votes from a turnout of 52,700,922. Also, it’s worth noting how this ballot was considered the cleanest in Russia since the early 1990s.

For some context, PARNAS’ total is a smaller percentage than Jill Stein (0.98 percent) earned in last week’s US Presidential election. And, let’s be totally honest here, if Eurocrats met Stein to discuss the future of America, while completely ignoring the existence of elected delegates from the Republican and Democratic parties, everybody would laugh at them. Even though she’s actually the leader of the Green Party, whereas PARNAS’ chief, Mikhail Kasyanov, has sent his number two to the shindig.

A further perusal of the menu shows how it’s entirely devoid of business figures and I’m not even sure that the “representatives of the expert community” amount to anything substantial either.

Confused Function

Thus, it’s time to question what this absurdity is really about. It’s pretty obvious how much Eurocrats dislike the Russian government, but now it appears that they don’t wish to deal with the Kremlin at all. Nevertheless, their solution to the conundrum is jaw-dropping in its irrationality. It seems they have created their own team of fantasy Russians who agree with them, on pretty much everything, and decided to play pretend politics. So, instead of engaging with people who actually have influence in Moscow, Eurocrats prefer to deal with “house Russians” who don’t ask difficult questions.

The problem is that there’s probably more chance of Martin Schulz becoming King of England or Guy Verhofstadt taking the throne in Thailand than any of the Boris Nemtsov Forum attendees ever achieving positions of power in the Kremlin. As a result these two days are a total and utter waste of time.

Here, Eurocrats remind one of teenagers playing FIFA Soccer. Let’s say they are fans of US or England teams and they really want them to win the World Cup. Well, we know that in reality, neither has much of a chance. However, in a video game, kids can bring them all the way to virtual glory. Of course, it’s not quite the same, but it allows for a bit of harmless escapism. Except this isn’t FIFA Soccer, it’s the grown up world of politics and it is a glaring example as to how EU officials are totally mismanaging their relations with Moscow.

Split Focus

Another bizarre fact about the Boris Nemtsov Forum is the way panels are expressly divided into the “European” and “Russian” sides. It evidently hasn’t occurred to the organizers how Russia is actually the biggest country in Europe and also the most populous, and that the EU doesn't have ownership of the continent, as the Brexit referendum recently reinforced. Additionally, by treating Russia as something foreign to Europe, they build fences rather than bridges and insult people here who feel very much European.

The EU is a legal entity, but there is not a single representative of Russia’s legal government involved. Would it not be more appropriate for Brussels’ officials to meet their counterparts in the Duma, instead of hanging out with a bunch of Russian emigres who have no authority to represent the country and no mandate whatsoever?

There’s also the issue of how this looks in the Kremlin. The website of Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia insists how the interests of the elected President of Russia - and his administration - are not those of the Russian people. Do Eurocrats honesty believe that by giving some form of legitimacy to these fringe activists, they help progress the EU’s relations with its most significant neighbor?

Or perhaps they are stuck in the kind of thinking which guided Kaiser Wilhelm II almost 100 years ago. Back then, the German monarch decided to send a “pro-European” exile by the name of Vladimir Lenin to Petrograd in order to exploit a power vacuum in Russia. And as we know, that didn’t work out very well for either Russia or the rest of Europe.

Right now, the US has a President-elect who appears to want to do business with Moscow. To achieve his goal, he’s attempting to build a relationship with the actual Russian government. Meanwhile, Eurocrats are acting out a delusion where they choose their own Russians to talk to, while avoiding the tougher option of engaging with valid leaders whose priority is defending the country’s interests.

If they don’t change tack swiftly, the EU is going to be left behind again. And its officials will only have themselves to blame. Because at this moment, their fantasies are destroying any chance of an easing of tensions with Moscow.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.