Welcome remarks from the opening plenary session
MEP, President of the European Parliament
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Ms Nemtsova, Dear Mr Khodorkovsky, Dear colleagues, Cher Guy, Dear friends,
Almost two years ago, on the 27th of February 2015, Boris Nemtsov was brutally murdered in the centre of Moscow, on a bridge right next to the Kremlin.
Boris Nemtsov was not only a former Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. He was one of the leaders of Russia’s liberal and democratic opposition, a reformer, supported and admired by many in Russia. In 2015 he was investigating Russia’s participation in the Donbas conflict. His courage, his commitment to a democratic Russia, stand as an example of civic engagement for the whole country.
His death was a shock to the whole world and it reminded us of too many other tragedies, among which I would mention journalist Anna Politkovskaya and lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Yet again, almost two years later, the investigation has not brought the main instigators to justice.
Shortly before his death, Boris Nemtsov was concentrating on Russia’s involvement in the conflict in Ukraine. He was determined to reveal the facts about this conflict, which are kept hidden from Russian citizens, a task of high importance. Because the conflict in Ukraine is the main cause for EU-Russia relations to be at their lowest since the Cold War.
Sanctions have been imposed and are regularly renewed as a result of the illegal annexation of Crimea and because of the unfulfilled commitments by Russia regarding the 2015 Minsk agreement. We still expect full respect of the ceasefire in force since 31 August, disarmament of all illegal groups and a restoration of control of the state border to the Ukrainian government. Russia’s air support to the Syrian regime’s indiscriminate targeting of civilian areas have caused further dismay. And I also hear from other leaders in our Member States and partners in the Balkans and in our Eastern neighbourhood – many are worried about hostile actions orchestrated by the Russian leadership.
These are difficult times for our relations with Russia.
Our official inter-parliamentary relations with, and missions to, Russia are frozen because of our counterparts’ involvement in the conflict in Ukraine and the respective visa bans. Contacts with civil society in Russia are also hampered due to the authorities targeting independent NGOs through the so-called “foreign agents law.”
However, dialogue will continue and must continue. Channels of communication need to remain open whilst respecting the EU sanctions’ policy. Only through dialogue will we maintain the slim chance to solve our differences.
It would be an enormous achievement to re-establish deep cooperation with Russia. Europe and Russia, Europeans and Russians share a common history. Russia needs the EU and the EU needs Russia. Together we are stronger.
There are major challenges that we can only tackle together: solving conflicts in our shared neighbourhood, the fight against terrorism, limiting nuclear proliferation, and reducing climate change. Landmark agreements such as Iran’s nuclear program and at the Paris COP21 conference on climate change show what is possible when we cooperate – and indeed we expect all the signatories to fully implement these landmark deals. I want the EU and Russia to work closer together in the future but first we need to uphold the international legal order on which we base our common peace and security.
Today’s forum can be a first step. It has ambitious, forward-looking objectives. It offers a platform for meaningful dialogue between civil society representatives, academics, the business community, politicians and officials coming from Russia and the European Union. I will be very interested to hear about your discussions and recommendations on essential issues such as our values, our governance, the economy and our relations with the rest of the world.
I sincerely congratulate Ms Nemtsova’s Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, Mr Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung für die Freiheit and the Members of this European Parliament (Guy Verhofstadt and Rebecca Harms) – for the organisation and the cross-party support to this important event, and would like to thank you once more for my invitation.
This Forum is called the Boris Nemtsov Forum. I am sure it will live up to be one of Boris Nemtsov’s main legacies, for the benefit of Russia and of EU-Russia relations.
I wish a very successful event to all of you.
Thank you very much.