The European Parliament ALDE group, led by Guy Verhofstadt, hosted an annual conference on future of the EU-Russia relations #EURussia, the event is organised the third time on the day of the Kremlin opposition politician Boris Nemtsov assassination. In spite of the symbolism, the tone of the debate was definitely constructive, aimed at normalisation of the relation between the neighbours, especially in the field of trade, suffering from both side from boycott, which has not brought an expected result. The burden of the sanctions has caused problems for the European farmers, who paid the bill for the EU method of pressure implication. However the policy was inconsistent, and Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny, who virtually participated in the conference, criticised the European companies for baning his documentaries upon the request of Russian officials, and the other cases of Europe compromising its values, namely the freedom of speech, when dealing with Moscow.
In spite of the criticism of Kremlin, the participants of the conference unlike many other events on the subject, have drawn a clear line between the authorities and regular citizens of Russia, suggesting that there should be two different policies aimed at this two groups. The Chairman of the Munich Security Conference Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger called for visa-free regime with Russia, enhancing people-to-people contacts – the best way to ensure and promote democratic change, while awaiting for a chance to step in. Ischinger reminded about the spontaneous reunification of Germany, and added that Europe should be ready to step in when there will be a window of opportunity in Russia. He also regretted the policy of sanctions that had altogether negative effect on economies, and degraded the relations to lowest since the times of Cold War.
Responding to criticism, Russian foreign affairs expert Andrey Kortunov said there is sufficient space in existing frames for exchanges between the EU and Russian, but the is a need to use them effectively before proposing new formats. He admitted the difficulty of transition from communism to democracy was underestimated.
The representative of the NGO Golos Stanislav Andreichuk shared his vision of ongoing change within Russian society, gradually rediscovering its own potential. He underlined there is less readiness for complicity with Kremlin to manipulate the elections, and even lesser to commit fraud with the ballots. Andreichuk supported the proposal of visa-free with Russia, however insisted on tough struggle against corrupt officials.
The two-track approach was a promoted by many participants of the event, suggesting there is right time to engage in dialogue with Russia for the sake of the economic interest, and a profound need of democratisation of Russian society.
The leader of ALDE, being a consequent supported of Magnitsky law, has criticised the EU hypocrisy for accepting corrupt officials in Europe. He underscored the necessity to work on democratic change to avoid losing a young generation of Russian.