The European Union should "get its act together and define what it really wants from its relations with Russia", says Vladimir Chizhov, the long-time Russian ambassador to the EU.
Russia is currently high on the bloc's agenda. Last week, the EU's High Representative Josep Borrell unveiled a new strategy to deal with Russia based on three principles: "push back, constrain, engage".
Leaders are set to discuss this approach and take stock of overall EU-Russia relations during this week's two-day European Summit.
"I think the European Union should start with something else. It should start by defining its own interests regarding Russia," Chizhov told Euronews ahead of the summit.
"I think the European Union itself should [get] its act together and define what it really wants from its relations with Russia, because those three words, they do not present a workable strategy. Pushing back what? Constraining what and how?"
For Chizhov, the "push back, constrain, engage" principles constitute an "expression of dialectical approach".
"Actually, I would suggest that the EU should not be guided by certain slogans or certain terms carved in stone because our relationship is evolving," he remarks, noting that the strategy was unveiled before the Geneva meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to the European Commission, the three principles should help the bloc become more robust and resilient against Russian interference and enable member states to respond to threats in a more systematic and unified manner. All foreign policy decisions at EU level must be taken by unanimity.
"Five years ago there was an attempt by the then [EU's] High Representative Federica Mogherini to present five principles of relations with Russia. What we see in the current approach is an attempt to make [it] a further step, but it's a step not only in the wrong direction, it's a step in a certain cul de sac because it doesn't give a positive agenda for relations with my country," the Ambassador notes.
"I think it is bad. It is bad for our bilateral relations. It is bad for Europe as a whole. And I would say it's bad for international politics because we continue to regard the European Union as an important element on the global political scene and the global economic scene."
America is back, but so is Russia
Ambassador Chizhov thinks the new strategy from Brussels doesn't highlight the positive elements in the EU-Russia relations and instead "solidifies the negative trend" of recent years.
Over the last decade, Russia has been accused of illegally annexing Crime, conducting disinformation campaigns, interfering in democratic elections, orchestrating chemical poisonings, perpetrating cyberattacks against governments, and providing military support in armed conflicts taking place in NATO's vicinity, like the Syrian war and the Nagorno-Karabakh confrontation.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his support for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko after Western nations accused him of hijacking a Ryanair flight over EU territory with the goal of kidnapping journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.
The EU's review of its Russian strategy is not an accidental policy decision: the bloc is hoping that, thanks to the arrival of Joe Biden, a self-proclaimed Atlanticist, at the White House, the balance of power will tilt again in favour of the alliance.
Europeans have not forgotten how Biden's predecessor, Donald J. Trump, made no secret of his admiration towards Putin and often appeared to side with Moscow rather than with Brussels.
"America is back, and this has created the wave of enthusiasm on this coast of the Atlantic. Well, perhaps if America is back with a positive agenda, that might be helpful," says the Ambassador.
"But I would recommend people here in Western Europe not to forget that Russia is back and Russia has been back for quite a while. And ignoring Russia or trying to isolate Russia has never helped anyone throughout the ages."
In order to bypass the ongoing geopolitical tensions, Chizhov believes the EU and Russia should focus on non-controversial areas of potential cooperation, such as climate change, digitalisation, the energy sector and the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
"We should all feel sorry that the international community has failed to jointly address this tiny, little, totally apolitical [and] devoid of any ideological ideology enemy [issue]: the coronavirus. Instead, what we are witnessing is, I would say, a very politicised campaign of competition of vaccines, which I believe is not in the interest of anyone," he says, stressing his certainty that the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine will be eventually approved for use in the European Union.