Vladimir Voronkov has been working in the Russian MFA system since 1989; in particular, he served as a Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to OSCE in 2005-2008, and since September 2008 he has been the director of the Department of European Cooperation. He is one of the key actors in the EU-Russia dialogue, including “Partnership for Modernisation” programme. In particular, Mr. Voronkov is the main Russian negotiator on the issue of liberalisation of the visa regime between EU and Russia.
The CSF representatives told Vladimir Voronkov and his colleagues about the history of establishment of the Forum, results of the founding conference in Prague and plans for the near future. Representatives of the Forum especially underlined their interest in establishing regular interaction with Russian and EU authorities for submission and discussion of the Forum’s participants’ proposals on the issues of their concern in the context of inter-governmental dialogue, in particular, in the framework of semi-annual EU-Russia summits, development of “Partnership for Modernisation” programme, negotiations on adoption of a new basic treaty between the two parties, and meetings of various intergovernmental working groups. In this context the Forum representatives shared a recent experience of holding the CSF parallel events during the summit in Nizhny Novgorod and expressed their concern about actions of the law enforcement agencies, aimed at not only blocking of these events but also of any civic activity during the summit and at intimidating civic and political activists. They stated that these actions directly contradict declaration of the Russian leadership about important role of civil society and the very spirit of EU-Russian cooperation and expressed their hope that nothing like this takes place in the future.
Vladimir Voronkov underlined that Russian MFA and personally the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov had repeatedly expressed support to civil society institutions and to interaction between civil society organizations from EU and Russia as an important part of a dialogue between the two sides. Illustrating this position, the Russian MFA representative pointed at the “Statement on the Progress in Implementation of the “Partnership for Modernisation” Programme”, signed by the two sides in Nizhny Novgorod. It speaks, in particular, about support to the establishment of the independent EU-Russia Civil Society Forum as well as to the development of cooperation between EU Economic and Social Committee and the Public Chamber and the beginning of the work of a new analytical centre “Dialogue EU-Russia” (DER). Mr. Voronkov expressed regret about the problems that had happened in Nizhny Novgorod and recommended to “establish trust” with the law enforcement agencies in order to avoid repeating such situations in the future. He also suggested that the Forum’s proposals should be submitted six weeks before the summits in order for them to be taken into account. In the opinion of the MFA representative, it might be possible that the Forum’s proposals could be included in the set of the summit documents as an appendix to the official papers. He also recommended the Forum to look into the themes of different working groups existing in the framework of several “spaces” of EU-Russia dialogue as well as into the jointly approved directions of implementation of the “Partnership for Modernisation” Programme; these could be used by the Forum as particular areas of engagement. Different government agencies are in charge of implementation of these dialogues and therefore it is necessary to establish direct contacts with them.
Vladimir Voronkov also suggested that the Forum could express support for the need for positive and concrete steps to be taken in the field of the visa liberalisation regime with abolition of visas between EU and Russia seen as an ultimate goal. Apparently, this is a rare case when interests and positions of civil society and Russian authorities coincide with each other entirely, Mr. Voronkov pointed out. Partners from the EU do not seem to be ready to move to the solution of this problem at the pace suggested by Russia, and support from civil society would be quite welcome here, representative of the Russian MFA stated. In response the representatives of the CSF agreed that this issue is indeed of high interest for civil society, and concrete proposals from the Forum in this area could be elaborated soon. However, the Forum’s representatives underlined that problems exist not only on the EU side. Often citizens of the EU, including NGO representatives, face difficulties with receiving business visas; they run into problems with Russian migration authorities and security services and face burdensome registration requirements. Russian NGOs often cannot act as an inviting party because of bureaucratic regulations. There is also a problem of “black lists” of foreigners who are banned from entry; they include, among others, representatives of foreign NGOs. Participants of the meeting agreed to continue in-depth discussion of this topic, and Mr. Voronkov suggested meeting with him specifically on these issues in mid-July after the next round of EU-Russia negotiations on the visa regime.
Vladimir Voronkov attracted attention of the interlocutors to one more issue where the Forum, in his opinion, could express its position. This is a problem of the situation of non-citizens in the Baltic countries, an issue traditionally of concern to the Russian MFA. There are about half a million people in this situation now, according to Mr. Voronkov, and there is no progress in addressing the problem of non-citizenship despite the fact that Russia has been constantly raising this concern with the leadership of these countries and the European Union. The Russian side is particularly concerned about the situation of the elderly people who have difficulties in passing language and history tests, and of young people who were born after restoration of the independence of these countries. CSF representatives informed Mr. Voronkov that this issue has not been discussed in the Forum yet and that there are representatives of NGOs from the Baltic states among the Forum members whose opinion will be important.
Responding to the CSF representatives’ question about prospects of adopting a separate chapter on the issues of rule of law and human rights in the draft of the new basic EU-Russia treaty which would be equal in importance to other chapters covering economic cooperation and security issues and ensure that interaction in this field will be not limited to a symbolic “common values” nature but rather be a permanent dialogue and cooperation, Vladimir Voronkov pointed out that it is exactly this approach that has been already adopted by the negotiators and that the draft treaty envisions such a chapter.
In addition, CSF representatives expressed the need for the working materials of inter-governmental dialogue to be made available to the Forum’s participants in advance to allow civil society representatives to develop their proposals more efficiently with the knowledge of the positions of the governments. Mr. Voronkov promised to provide assistance in this issue within the area of his competence and recommended to establish relationships with other departments of the MFA and other Russian ministries involved in the dialogue with the European Union.
In conclusion of the meeting, Vladimir Voronkov once again underlined support from the Russian MFA to interaction with civil society in the framework of EU-Russia dialogue. In their turn, representatives of the Civil Society Forum reiterated their desire for regular interaction with official representatives of the Russian government and the EU and expressed their hope that the Forum will prepare proposals on a number of issues that concern civil society in time for the EU-Russia summit in Brussels in December this year.