The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Didier Reynders, flies to Moscow on Monday for a two-day visit. He will meet his Russian counterpart, Sergueï Lavrov, and will co-chair the two-yearly meeting of the Mixed Economic Belgian-Luxembourg-Russian Committee.
This trip comes ten days after that of the Prime Minister, Charles Michel. As alluded to above, it marks a further stage in the relaunch of dialogue with Moscow. The visit is within a context which remains marked by mutual sanctions between the European Union and its neighbour from the East, following the annexation of Crimea in spring 2014.
Despite current sanctions, Belgium wishes to establish a “genuine dialogue” with Russia. Mr Reynders had already delivered this message in July 2017, when he had met Mr Lavrov in Brussels, following a meeting between the Russian Foreign Minister and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. There had also been an issue of cooperation at that meeting.
Mr Michel’s trip in January, during which he met his counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev and the President, Vladimir Putin, enabled him to take this avenue further. The visit was “fruitful” as it enabled the provision of clarification “without any degree of naivety as to the current European dynamics from the start.” This was the view of the Belgian Prime Minister who spoke of having observed the interest and openness on the part of his counterparts, having regard to “an alternative form of dialogue.”
The dialogue possesses not only a political and diplomatic nature. It also has an economic scope. At the beginning of his meeting with Mr Michel, Mr Putin stressed, “Your visit is in the interests of the economies of our two countries.” The day before, on the same visit, the two leaders spoke of having identified fruitful spheres of cooperation between both countries, in particular the steel industry and the diamond trade, and areas that could be strengthened, especially within the pharmaceutical sector.
The meeting of the Mixed Economic Belgian-Luxembourg-Russian Committee will enable a more concrete translation of this particular objective, even if the current agri-foodstuffs embargo decreed by Russia remains in place. Speaking upon the subject Mr Medvedev mentioned, on January 30th, that lifting the ban on imports from Europe could only be considered if European sanctions were also removed.