The EU’s envoy to Moscow has called for a sweeping expansion of engagement with Russia in fields including 5G mobile communications and personal data protection, in a move likely to stoke divisions within the bloc over how to deal with the Kremlin.
Markus Ederer urges the “pragmatic” move towards “enhanced co-ordination” with Russia to combat “Eurasian competition” as China’s influence in the region grows, according to an internal EU diplomatic note written by him and seen by the Financial Times.
The ideas for broader co-operation, particularly in areas with security sensitivities, promise to be contentious at a time of rising tensions within the EU over policy on Russia, which remains subject to bloc sanctions because of its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Countries such as the Baltic states and Poland are wary of attempts led by France and Finland to use talks and a prisoner exchange between the new government in Kiev and the Kremlin as an opportunity to bolster EU ties with Moscow.
Mr Ederer argues his ideas could be implemented “without any high-level overarching political partnership”.
One EU diplomat sceptical of the Russia outreach said elements in the bloc were too keen to woo Moscow, given that the Kremlin had failed to change significantly its behaviour. “It’s very unfortunate,” the diplomat said. “They are really trying to raise every stone to do more co-operation.”
The proposals are part of a broader discussion inside the EU over relations with countries to the east, amid increasing anxiety about how to handle the influence of China across Eurasia.
“[The EU] would have everything to lose by ignoring the tectonic strategic shifts in Eurasia,” says the document, which is dated September 3 and addressed to Gunnar Wiegand, managing director for Asia Pacific at the EU’s External Action Service, and Angelina Eichhorst, the service’s acting managing director for Europe and Central Asia.
It adds: “Engaging not only with China but with Russia, selectively, is a necessary condition to be part of the game and play our cards where we have comparative advantage.”
Mr Ederer — one of the EU’s most senior ambassadors — says the ideas are a response to a request for his delegation to consult with “EU stakeholders” and report back on how to engage with Russia, “taking into account the political environment, but also Russia’s natural relevance for EU-Asia connectivity”.
The document has been drafted ahead of an event in Brussels on September 27 on EU-Asia links, which Shinzo Abe, Japan’s premier, has been invited to open alongside Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president.
Mr Ederer and the EU’s diplomatic service said in a statement that they did not comment on alleged leaked documents. Mr Ederer briefed EU member states in Brussels this week on developments in Russia, although diplomats say the memo was not discussed.
Mr Ederer’s document proposes five areas — the Arctic, digital, the Eurasian Economic Union, regional infrastructure and the “Northern Dimension” joint policy between the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland — to “engage effectively, on concrete, technical matters” with Russia.
The aim would be to set up a “framework of exchanges with Russia on longstanding issues in the EU interest”, involving European businesses and commission officials.
“Ideas collected focus [on] where leaving a clear field to our competitors by not engaging would be most detrimental to EU interests: digital, rail and road transport, customs or standards,” the letter reads.
The document notes that 5G “is somewhat of a buzzword these days” and says there are “possibilities” in the area in Russia for European companies such as Nokia and Ericsson.
The memo says China’s Huawei is “increasing its prominence in the Russia telecoms market”, renting large capacity in Russian data centres and signing an agreement on 5G development with Russia’s MTS.
EU members Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — which all share a border with Russian territory — are unhappy with the unsatisfactory progress in talks with Moscow to co-ordinate frequency allocation for 5G networks and television broadcasts, the document adds.
Mr Ederer’s note says Russia is interested in an “exchange of views” with the EU on “privacy in the digital world”. The memo says Russian authorities also want to learn more about EU laws regulating the flow of non-personal data, “as they feel they have a legislative gap in that area”.
The memo highlights Russian demand for EU companies’ goods, such as rolling stock for new high-speed rail lines where Chinese corporations will be competing with EU businesses such as Alstom and Siemens.
Mr Ederer also draws attention to potential opportunities for EU companies in the Arctic, noting that Russian energy companies Novatek and Rosatom are “expected to be major investors in seaport capacities, shipping capacities, [liquefied natural gas] terminals etc”.
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