Nikolai Topornin: "After Putin-Trump meeting, Russia-U.S. relations deteriorate further"
Associate Professor of European law at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Nikolai Topornin, commented on the recent foreign policy developments, in particular, Russia's relations with the European Union, the United States, and the Caspian states.
- How do you assess the Russian president's meeting with the German Chancellor last weekend?
- Over three hours, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel discussed the most important issues of the international agenda and bilateral relations. Unfortunately, we do not know all the details of the discussion, we only know the voiced topics - the situation in Syria and Iran, the Donbass, the Nord Stream-2, bilateral relations between Russia and Germany, as well as between Russia and the European Union. It is important that at such a challenging time the leaders of the two leading European states found the opportunity to meet in a calm atmosphere, in a working mode, to discuss these important problems and, possibly, find some solutions. It is beneficial for both countries. There are issues on which the parties disagree, for example, Crimea. There are some stalemates, for example, the situation with the implementation of the Minsk settlement agreements in the Donbass. But also there is an understanding that cooperation, especially in the trade and economic sphere, is beneficial both for the German and for the Russian economies. Despite the existing differences, we should focus on those issues where we have constructive approaches, a common understanding, a joint vision. And we have a lot of such issues, in particular, the situation over Iran and the U.S. sanctions on European and Russian companies.
Now there is the emerging economic reality, when the U.S. is trying to solve its economic problems at the expense of its traditional partners, including in Europe. This new reality requires new answers. If earlier we were dealing with an open economy, the so-called fair competition within the WTO, today the Americans are openly turning to the position of protectionism, to the position of imposing their national and economic interests on the whole world. They do it not in accordance with WTO rules and regulations, but based on their domestic needs, without looking back to international law and international standards of conduct in the economic sphere.
- Will European countries try to oppose the new steps of the U.S.?
- They counteract. The EU countries imposed duties in response to the increase in U.S. duties on European steel and aluminum. They imposed restrictions, ranging from agricultural products to Harley Davidson motorcycles. The tariffs will hit 16 billion euro worth of U.S. goods coming into Europe. But to date, Europeans receive more dividends and greater profits than Americans from mutual trade. It's a matter of tens of billions of dollars. Trump say not without reason that trade with the European Union is unfair and dishonest. He means that European investments do not really reach the U.S., Europeans sell a lot of their goods and services, while not much of American goods go to Europe, but American investments go. Trump does not like it. He promised American voters that he would return American money to the country, create new modern industries, a lot of jobs. He implements this policy. To some extent, we should be more like him, taking care of our own national economic interests. However, the question is how to correlate the new economic policy with the international obligations undertaken by the U.S. in the framework of numerous international organizations, primarily the WTO. Unfortunately, we have to admit that the U.S. does not pay attention to the existing international law and does whatever is right for it. They do not care about the interests of European partners. But, as I said, today dividends of Europeans from trade with the US are very high, they do not want to give up these dividends, because the American market is the largest market in the world, the richest market in the world, and being present there means a good profit . Nobody gives up such profit that easy.
- How do you see the relations between Russia and the United States after the recent package of sanctions?
- Relations between the United States and Russia are at the lowest level since the end and the Second World War. Trade and economic cooperation has been reduced to a minimum level. If my memory serves me well, the trade turnover does not exceed 17 billion - it's nothing for two such large states. Out diplomatic relations deteriorated sharply. Consular offices were closed on both sides, our trade missions were closed in the United States. The U.S. is introducing new sanctions packages against us. On August 22, the first package of sanctions will come into effect under the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act. These sanctions do not yet have much impact on our economy, but the second package of sanctions, which will come into effect in 90 days, on November 22, provides for serious economic measures up to the prohibition of purchases of Russian bonds, OFZ, a ban on the supply of virtually the entire group of manufactured goods, modern technologies, innovative products. Direct flights between the U.S. and Russia may be canceled. Can you remember a time when we did not have direct flights between the two countries. The second package of measures even provides for a lowering of the level of diplomatic relations. Which means that the ambassadors of the two countries can be recalled.
The relations are very poor and tend to deteriorate.So far, I see nothing that would change this direction in our relationship. New bills are being prepared. Recently, a group of congressmen led by Lindsey Graham introduced a bill on additional sanctions against Russia, which were imposed on Russia because of its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. This bill, if it comes to adoption in the current form, is draconian. We can talk about a certain trade and economic embargo, imposed by the United States on the Russian Federation.
- What does the U.S.want by introducing new sanctions?
- The U.S. wants to punish us for alleged interference in the American elections. In the opinion of American lawmakers, we seriously interfered in the electoral process and are preparing to intervene in the November Congress elections. This is the main reason behind the sanctions. They do not believe the evidence submitted by our party that there was no state interference in the U.S. elections. They have some information of their own, on the basis of which they adopt such draconian bills, threatening to freeze all relations, including in diplomatic, cultural and sports spheres.
- Was it possible for Putin's meeting with Trump to change the situation?
- It was Putin's personal meeting with Trump which led to the appearance of this new draconian bill. The Americans did not like the format of the meeting in Helsinki, when the two presidents communicated tete-a-tete for a long time. Washington is afraid that some bilateral personal agreements can be reached between Trump and Putin that violate the interests of the U.S., which will not counteract Russia's alleged intervention in U.S. affairs. As a result, the meeting led to an even worse deterioration of relations between the two countries.
- What if Hillary Clinton had won?
- The Democratic Party and its power elite are still convinced that Trump due to Russia's intervention in the election. They talked about some use of American social networks, about the creation of some fake accounts. Democrats are sure that it was Russia that contributed to Trump's victory. If Hillary Clinton had won, it was not the case. It's clear that Russia was in favor of Trump, and if Clinton had won, she would have resisted Russia's position. On the other hand, Clinton would continue Obama's business, and our relations, which worsened significantly under Obama, would be more calm. That is, we would continue to be rivals, but without such a serious aggravation, such a powerful opposition of the U.S. political establishment to rapprochement or some kind of constructive cooperation between the two countries.
- Recently, the Convention on the status of the Caspian Sea was signed at the summit of the Caspian states. What is its significance?
- As a lawyer, I am glad that the Caspian dialogue process, which lasted almost 22 years, led to the signing of this convention. Of course, it needs to be ratified, but, probably, it will come into force in 2019. From now on, there will be a clear order of what can and can not be done in the Caspian. It is important for everyone that the presence of foreign forces is prohibited there (with the exception of the five Caspian states). The Caspian will receive a long-playing peaceful status.
It is important that environmental issues will now be of primary importance, the countries will be required to coordinate with each other various projects, such as fishing, drilling, laying of pipelines. It will preserve the identity of the Caspian as a large closed sea.
In general, the parties clarified issues of delimitation of the water area, on territorial waters, on so-called economic zone. Recently, it has caused unnecessary questions and disputes between the entities - going the wrong way, fishing in the wrong place, someone was fined, someone was detained. If there is a convention, such contradictions and minor conflicts will no longer exist in the Caspian. In all respects it is a very positive international agreement, which will breathe new life into the development of the Caspian and its resources.
- Will it change the bilateral relations between the neighbors in the Caspian?
- We have no contradictions with any of the Caspian countries. The Caspian is a resource-rich closed sea. Resources are exhausted, so we need to take care of them. It was necessary to develop a unified mechanism for maintaining these resources at the proper level to avoid a selfish approach on the part of a particular state to the detriment of the interests of others. The convention just settled these issues. Experts had worked for 22 years, hundreds of meetings were held at expert level, and finally all disputed issues were resolved. Neither side was dissatisfied. All interests were taken into account and reconciled. Now it allow us to calmly look to the situations in the Caspian in the near future.