Juris Poikāns: “EUROPEAN UNION CANNOT ACCEPT ANY PRIVILEGED SPHERES OF INFLUENCE”
Only a year passed from last Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius but Europe experienced very serious changes. Upcoming EaP summit in Riga (21-22 May 2015) should react on new challenges which Europe is facing now. Russkii vopros discussed with Juris Poikāns, Latvian Ambassador-at-Large for Eastern Partnership, condition of the Eastern Partnership before Riga summit what we can expect from the Summit.
Latvia took over the EU Council Presidency in very complex time. However, the European Union faces a number of internal challenges; problems in its Eastern neigbourhood seem to be even more intricate. Occupation of Crimea by Russia as well as following armed opposition of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, strongly supported by Moscow, against central power in Kyiv have shaken European post-war architecture of security to its foundation. What do you think it is possible to find some mutually acceptable solution of this conflict?
The situation remains extremely difficult with a lot of uncertainties around. The Ukrainian government is and will be forced to carry out very painful reforms whose effect undoubtedly will have a social effect on large segments of the Ukrainian society. The instability in the Eastern part of Ukraine will require permanent attention of the Ukrainian government, as well.
The so called “Minsk agreements” currently serve as the only real option for ending hostilities in a short term perspective and bringing permanent peace in a longer one. It remains to be seen how the real implementation on the ground takes place. It is too early to say.
I do not want to speculate what might happen if the Minsk agreements are derailed. We would find ourselves in a new and very unpleasant situation. At the end of the day, it is up to Ukraine and Ukrainians to decide what kind of a country they want to build and what kind of a foreign policy direction they want to choose.
We can often hear argumentation that Russia only defends its natural interests in so called near abroad that are threatened by programmes as the Eastern Partnership is. In the EU understanding this programme is an offered helping hand to transitive countries but Russia regards it as a clenched fist prepared to knock. Why does Moscow see in the effort to help post-Soviet countries with building of democracy civil society and market economy threat to it?
The European Union, correctly, was never seeking confrontation with Russia in our joint neighborhood. On the contrary, we were willing to expand ties with Russia in a number of fields, through liberalization of travel regimes, trade, educational opportunities, people-to-people contacts etc. We understand Russia’s historical, economic and political interests in the countries of Eastern Partnership but the European Union cannot accept and will not accept any privileged spheres of influence for any country on the European continent. Those times are over. Every Eastern Partnership member state has sovereign rights to choose how far they are willing to go in relations with the EU.
The European Union is looking for various ways how to make the EaP programme more effective. There is a visible effort to prepare co-operation tailored to each individual country which has its own reason. On the other hand, four of six EaP member countries are involved in GUAM. Maybe, it could be also useful to give with help of EaP a new impetus to the co-operation inside this organization. Its potential has not sufficiently used yet…
When it comes to the development of GUAM, the four countries must decide on the future direction of the organization. The Eastern Partnership policy is about building ties with all countries including Armenia and Belarus and this remains our key approach.
There will be held the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga on 21-22 May. Could you share with us your expectation connected with this important event?
This will be an important summit in a difficult historical period. We want to commend countries such as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine who since the last summit in Vilnius have decided to sign Association Agreements with the European Union. The Summit will take note of that and will express commitment and readiness to implement these serious political documents.
The Summit will seek new and individual ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus who do not share the same level of ambition with regard to the EU. We fully respect their choices and remain open with them for the sake of constructing Europe whole and free.
We will definitely highlight the importance of multilateral co-operation. We have been adding new dimensions in our co-operation, namely, digital economy, fight against tuberculosis, environment and others.
Mobility remains an important driver of the Eastern Partnership. The Summit will allow checking what kind of progress has been achieved on the issues of abolishing visas for short-term travels to Georgian and Ukrainian citizens to the Schengen countries. We hope we will be able to make first steps in visa facilitation with Belarus, as well.