Dutch PM: Aspirant Countries Should Anchor to Both Russia AND Europe

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, currently holding the European Council presidency, told the Voice of America Georgian Service that Association Agreements with aspirant countries makes the EU stronger; however, he argued that Ukraine should not be allowed to become a member of the economic block. PM Rutte claims that countries in Eastern Europe should build and maintain strong relations with Russia.

“I think the Eastern Partnership is important. I was at the Vilnius Summit in 2013 and I still remember the Summit we had in Poland in 2011. I think it is extremely important that the European Union build its bridges with the countries in Eastern Europe, while at the same time also acknowledging that these countries will also have strong relations with Russia,” stated Mr. Rutte.

The Dutch Prime Minister reiterated his previous position on EU expansion and said that the aspirant countries should not look at the EU membership as a zero sum game and should not choose between Russia and the West. “It should be a choice to anchor these countries to both Europe and Russia,” he said.

Some in Eastern Europe believe that it would take years for Ukraine and Georgia to establish normal relations with Moscow – if at all. Russia occupies about 20 percent of Georgian territory. It annexed Crimea and supports separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Despite this predicament, the Dutch Prime Minister believes that EU and NATO aspirant countries, including Ukraine, should get closer to Europe to strengthen their democracies, which in turn will help them to have stable relations with Russia.

“I think the Association Agreement will help Ukraine to fight corruption, to improve democracy, improve the standards of human rights for many minorities- the gay community, Jewish community, who are very much in favor of this. A stronger Ukraine would also be able to build a relationship with Russia,” said PM Rutte.

He also believes that Ukraine should not forget its historic ties with Russia: “Let’s not forget that a part of the Russian history started in Ukraine, in Kiev. Of course, what happened in Crimea, in Eastern Ukraine, has created a situation where a stable relationship with Russia is very difficult to see. Still, in the near future, or in the somewhat distant future I hope that Ukraine will be able to have as strong relations with the European Union as to Moscow.”

PM Rutte has similar views on NATO expansion. According to him, before inviting new members, the Alliance should consider its physical proximity with Moscow and base the expansion policy on balancing this factor. “Before the Berlin Wall came down, the distance between Moscow and the West was 3000 kilometers. I’m not in favor of this, but if Ukraine were to have an exclusive relationship with the West and have no relationship with Russia, then that distance will be 1000 kilometers – 2000 kilometers less than in 1989. When we discuss the expansion of NATO, we need to remind ourselves of this and what it means in terms of our relations with Russia,” said the Dutch PM.

While opposing Ukraine’s accession into NATO, the Dutch PM does not object to the ambitions of aspirant countries. “I understand the ambitions of the countries in the east that are close to Russia to become members of NATO,” he said. However, referring to physical or political threats coming from Russia, he added “there is no simple yes on no answer. NATO constantly needs to balance these facts.”

Ia Meurmishvili

07 April 2016 20:10