Koenders: Need for new international balance with Russia

Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders has warned in a letter to the Dutch parliament that the international approach to Russia ‘cannot continue as it was before the Russians’ interference in Ukraine’. A new international balance needs to be struck with Russia, using an approach that combines the ‘muscle’ of defensive measures, the ‘fist’ of economic sanctions and the ‘open hand’ of dialogue.

Mr Koenders argues that the illegal annexation of the Crimea and interference in the conflict in eastern Ukraine have precipitated a ‘watershed’ in our approach to Russia. He refers to a breach of trust that must be repaired. ‘In just a short time, Russia has become a country with which relations are more complex across the board, and which seems to be openly rejecting the international legal order, the current security order in Europe and the universality of human rights, an issue of special importance to the Netherlands.’

In recent years the Russian authorities have adopted increasingly restrictive legislation, emphasising national pride and unique Russian values, the Minister says. ‘This has been accompanied by a more assertive and aggressive Russian foreign policy with respect to their near neighbours.’ Combined with the Russians’ willingness to deploy military and political resources, this has given rise to a situation of grave concern, he concludes.

A unanimous international approach to Russia is therefore vital, Mr Koenders believes. The Netherlands will lobby for a common sense of purpose in the EU, NATO and the OSCE. According to the Minister, the international community will need to maintain its robust stance until Russia changes course.

The Netherlands will continue to press for the promotion of human rights in Russia, people-to-people contacts and exchanges with independent cultural and academic institutions. This is more important than ever in the current context. ‘Needless to say, we must prevent the situation from slipping into a new form of Cold War with Russia,’ says Mr Koenders.

The Minister concludes by saying that the Netherlands is opting for a realistic approach, focused on de-escalation of Russian policy on Ukraine, with dialogue and functional cooperation where possible. ‘The pressure of sanctions and common defence alone will not enable us to strike a new balance in our relations with Russia. So it is vital that we continue to communicate openly with the Russians,’ he urges.