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Europe’s strategy towards Russia: how Parliament sees the way forward

21.10.2016

EU-Russia relations have long been difficult but following Moscow’s recent involvement in the bombing of Aleppo they have deteriorated even further. Tonight at the European Council heads of EU states discuss the EU’s strategy towards Russia. MEPs have strongly condemned Russia’s role in Syria and called for a “critical reassessment” of EU relations with the country. Read on for an overview of Parliament’s position.

Russia’s role in Syria

MEPs strongly condemned the atrocities in Syria in a resolution adopted two weeks ago and called on all parties in the conflict, especially Russia and the Assad regime, to stop all attacks on civilians. Since then tensions have increased further as Russia continues to militarily back Assad’s offensive, including the bombing of Aleppo.

On Monday the EU’s foreign ministers reiterated that there can be no military solution to the Syrian conflict, but that a political solution must be sought.

Tonight EU heads of state will discuss how to deal with Russia during the EU summit in Brussels.

Ukraine

The EU imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions on Russia in March 2014 following the country’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the war in Ukraine. Russia responded by banning around half of EU’s imports of food and agricultural products.

Austrian EPP member Othmar Karas, head of the delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, said: “A peaceful settlement of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine requires the implementation of the Minsk agreements and thus the respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

He added:: “As Minsk is not implemented, there can be no end or erasing of sanctions and no business as usual in EU-Russia relations.”

Parliament regards the preservation of  EU countries’ unity on this as an “absolute priority“.

Reducing energy dependence

Last December MEPs welcomed the European Commission’s proposals for an Energy Union as a way to reduce the EU’s dependence on energy imports from Russia. The resolution stated that the country “has proven to be an unreliable partner and which uses its energy supplies as a political weapon”.  This is why MEPs called in June for solidarity because a number of countries depend for nearly all their gas imports on Russia.

Counteracting propaganda

In June 2015 MEPs expressed deep concern with Russia’s financing of radical and extremist parties in the EU. They also pointed out that Russia restricts media and internet freedom while engaging in propaganda and misinformation targeted at the EU.

Karas commented: “I fully support the EU’s initiatives in addressing Russia’s ongoing disinformation and propaganda warfare. This does not mean to engage in counter-propaganda, but to set the facts straight.”

The foreign affairs committee has produced a report on the issue. According to the committee, the Russian government is aggressively employing a wide range of tools such as think tanks, multilingual TV stations, social media and internet trolls. The resolution will be voted on by all MEPs during the November plenary.

The future of EU-Russia relations

Karas stressed the importance of cooperation and communication when discussing the way forward for the EU and Russia in order to meet common challenges. “The European Union must remain united and firm by reasserting the principles of international law, while being open to seize every opportunity for dialogue,” he said. “We need to intensify people-to-people contacts as well as our exchange with Russian civil society.”

Source: europarl.europa.eu