After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Singing Revolutions, it seemed that history had indeed come to an end and that democracy and the rule of law are prevailing over aggression and unlawfulness. And there was at first willingness from Russia - and our hope that Russia wants to be part of this new order and a trusted partner in Europe.
However, the cooperation between Russia and the EU has become increasingly fractured, with the Russian side choosing certain areas where it sees benefits, but avoiding uncomfortable issues like the deterioration of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. At the same time, for many years the Russian leadership has put more and more money into building up military might. We used to close our eyes to this tendency, even after 2008, when Russian military boots crossed into the territory of Georgia.
Today the Russian leadership is again responsible for aggression against Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, and has put our relations at a crossroads.
Enforcing the abidance of international laws
International law cannot be made irrelevant by the brutal action of a military might. It is the responsibility of the rest of the world to assert international norms.
It is up to the Kremlin to decide now which way it will choose to go: cooperation or aggression. But Russia should understand that without trust no partnership is possible; the Russian side has to show in their deeds, not words, that they truly value the cooperation and open dialogue with the EU they have enjoyed until now. The EU must stop giving ‘advance’ incentives until it sees the commitments already taken are being upheld.
I am convinced that the Russian people do not want war; they want peace, as all of us do. Therefore Russia is capable of change - and this change will come from within. We must support the victims of its aggression and those who, in spite of an atmosphere of fear, speak out against war and suppression and stand up for human rights defenders.
This week, the European Parliament sent a strong message to the Russian leadership that, while they have to decide which path they choose, we continue to stand up for the values we believe in and that the EU was founded on.
Meanwhile, the sanctions should be maintained and even strengthened, depending on the developments on the ground, until the Minsk agreements are implemented and Crimea set on a path of return to Ukraine. At the same time, we have to take the necessary actions to ensure that the EU’s resilience - against propaganda, trade and energy wars - will be increased and its unity solidified.