“All Together or Me First? How the European Union and Russia see the Future of Multilateral Diplomacy”. This was the topic of the VI European Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club.

More than 100 experts from 10 European countries discussed the challenges to global multilateral diplomacy. Some experts say that the model of multilateral diplomacy is going through an acute crisis, or even is about to collapse.

The need to build international foreign economic ties based on the use of each country’s privileges in cooperation with partners is understood both in Moscow and in Europe.

But will Russia and the EU be able to find common ground? As the discussions showed, it will be rather difficult.

OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger said that there was no alternative to multilateral diplomacy at the current stage of development. States do not trust each other and trusting relationship can be revived by turning to multiculturalism. 

The development of multilateral diplomacy is threatened by the rivalry between countries over trade and weakening of the arms control regime. Many countries rely on themselves alone and solve their own problems within integration projects.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko highlighted that the main threat to multiculturalism is a growing number of sanctions imposed on countries and the number of countries which use them.  And the growing military activity of the North Atlantic Alliance is putting increasing pressure on the NATO-Russia Founding Act.

Russia’s permanent representative at international organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov drew attention to the fact that Europe does not take an active position in the field of arms control in space. They don’t want to annoy the US? Meanwhile, Washington is taking new steps towards the militarization of space.

Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs is convinced that Russia has always adhered to the principles of multilateral diplomacy. This is confirmed by the successful Astana negotiation process on Syria which didn’t find much acceptance in the West because the Western powers were not parties to the talks.

Special focus was placed on the impact of sanctions on Russian-European relations.

Alexander Shokhin, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs noted that sanctions only harm European companies, which is why many companies advocate for their lifting. Europe is already losing to Chinese businesses.

Mr Shokhin also said that secondary sanctions are often more dangerous than the primary ones. An example is the “nuclear deal” with Iran. When the US withdrew from the deal and imposed sanctions against Iran again, European companies were forced to curtail business in the country. However, Iran is very important for Europe, that is why the EU doesn’t always follow the US advice.

In conclusion, the participants of the conference pointed out that despite some progress in relations, the number of disagreements between Russia and the EU has increased. The participants unanimously expressed the need to continue the dialogue.

It is not surprising that the discussion was mainly focused on the US sanctions and the withdrawal of Russia and the US from the INF Treaty. Although OSCE and Russian representatives have taken a similar stance on the danger of undermining international agreements in the field of security, they have different opinions as to the US sanctions. A number of European countries fear the US pressure for supporting the Nord Stream project (read more) and express their dissatisfaction with the failed dialogue between the US and Iran. Russia itself is subject to the US sanctions for the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Therefore, the only thing the parties are close to agreeing on is that sanctions have become an instrument for conducting economic wars, which often are inimical to the interests of the international community.

The conference itself did not go off without problems. Several hours before the start, the Austrian authorities refused to provide facilities for “Valdai”.

The club linked it with the resignation of Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache accused of ties with Russian oligarchs who allegedly tried to influence local elections. Mr Strache himself claims that it is a provocation, and the Russian-speaking woman he talked to a year ago was a Latvian citizen, not Russian.