Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a special address from Moscow on the occasion of an all-online edition of the World Economic Forum on 27 January 2021 urging better ties between Moscow and the European Union, declaring the Kremlin "ready" for an improved relationship.

Putin’s view about the future of European-Russian relations

“There are things of an absolutely fundamental nature such as our common culture. Major European political figures have talked in the recent past about the need to expand relations between Europe and Russia, saying that Russia is part of Europe. Geographically and, most importantly, culturally, we are one civilization. French leaders have spoken of the need to create a single space from Lisbon to the Urals. I believe, and I mentioned this, why the Urals? To Vladivostok.

I personally heard the outstanding European politician, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, say that if we want European culture to survive and remain a center of world civilization in the future, keeping in mind the challenges and trends underlying the world civilization, then of course, Western Europe and Russia must be together. It is hard to disagree with that. We hold exactly the same point of view.

Clearly, today’s situation is not normal. We need to return to a positive agenda. This is in the interests of Russia and, I am confident, the European countries. Clearly, the pandemic has also played a negative role. Our trade with the European Union is down, although the EU is one of our key trade and economic partners. Our agenda includes returning to positive trends and building up trade and economic cooperation.

Europe and Russia are absolutely natural partners from the point of view of the economy, research, technology and spatial development for European culture, since Russia, being a country of European culture, is a little larger than the entire EU in terms of territory. Russia’s resources and human potential are enormous. I will not go over everything that is positive in Europe, which can also benefit the Russian Federation.

Only one thing matters: we need to approach the dialogue with each other honestly. We need to discard the phobias of the past, stop using the problems that we inherited from past centuries in internal political processes and look to the future. If we can rise above these problems of the past and get rid of these phobias, then we will certainly enjoy a positive stage in our relations.

We are ready for this, we want this, and we will strive to make this happen. But love is impossible if it is declared only by one side. It must be mutual".

Public opinion in Russia has been shifting away from hostility. Multiple polls indicate that Russians now perceive the West and specifically the European Union more favorably than a few years ago. The public demand for rapprochement is impacting the Kremlin’s foreign policy.

Russia’s anti-Western sentiments hit an all-time high after the war in eastern Ukraine. Recent data, however, reveal that anti-Western sentiments have started to tank. A survey commissioned by the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC) and Ipsos found that 70% of Russians want to cooperate more with Europe in many areas such as scientific exchange and environmental protection. A Levada Center poll found that 80% believe that Russia and the West should become friends and partners; 49% expressed positive opinions toward the European Union. Despite constant diplomatic jabs during the 2000s and multiple disagreements, Russia and the European Union still share more similarities than differences. The ongoing changes in Russian public opinion might also reflect growing disillusionment with meager economic growth and fatigue with aggressive propaganda. Improved relations with the West and a shift away from confrontation to cooperation could be among the public priorities.

As the situation with the pandemic remains unclear and global political settings could worsen U.S.-China geopolitical rivalry, Russians might be more eager to restore broken relations with the Western nations. This would push the Kremlin to reconsider its growing realignment with the regime in Beijing that so far has failed to deliver any significant returns.

The restoration of a systemic dialogue between Russia and the EU should be a high priority issue. Nowadays, there is not a common political approach regarding future relations with Russia. EU member states are supporting an approach based both on deterrence and on dialogue with Russia . Furthermore, each member state carries forward its own foreign policy more or less favorable to cooperation with Russia. It must be recognized that a good part of EU states considers Russia to be an inevitable partner and this obviously has an impact on EU policy that fails to find a coherent, strategic and incisive approach.

The EU has been able to maintain sanctions over time, but at the same time its member states, each in proportion to their economies and their historical relations with Russia, have continued bilateral relations that made sanctions as a purely symbolic tool.

Both at political and economic level, the EU and its member states are sometimes on two parallel lines. Relations with Russia are yet another proof of the lack of harmonization between European objectives and national interests. When the member states act in the Council of the EU they continue to follow a “coherent” line because, although with different interests, all states agree to renew sanctions on Russia. At the same time, each state, especially those analyzed, have developed bilateral cooperation policies based on their historical relation with Russia.

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