Opening address to the Boris Nemtsov Forum, Brussels

November 26, 2016

Ladies and gentlemen,
President Schulz,

I am pleased to welcome to this forum participants from many regions of Russia and countries of Europe. They are representatives of civil society, politicians and experts.

In inviting participants here, we wanted to create an opportunity for dialogue between EU parliamentarians, people working in the European Commission … well-known public figures from Russia, and new political players. Players who will have to construct a future Russia; a European country, since no other Russia exists, no matter what the current government – and the small section of society it has deceived – might think.

Over the two years since our Open Russia organisation was reincarnated, we have seen that our country, with its population of 140 million people, boasts more than enough young and up-and-coming politicians capable of dragging it out of the systemic crisis into which it has been plunged by the current regime.

During the previous elections, we reorganised OR into a movement. At the founding conference, we decided to continue preparing a programme of reforms and assembling a team to implement them; and we decided that we would continue furthering the development of civil society.

We set ourselves the challenge of collaborating with already-existing self-organised citizens’ associations doing their best to resist encroachments on their rights on the part of the regime and its monopolies.

Many of them require legal, organisational and informational assistance. With support from OR’s backers, we can go some way to offering this assistance.

I also hope that further opportunities will present themselves over the course of this forum.

People in Russia are tired of confrontation; they are tired of militaristic hysteria, tired of being told that they’re surrounded by enemies.

The vast majority of Russia’s citizens want neither to fight nor to fence themselves off from the world.

Independent studies, including some that we ourselves have carried out, show that 70% of Russians believe it’s important to restore friendly and equal relations with the world – and especially Europe – as quickly as possible.

Likewise, the majority of Russians believe that authority on the world stage should be achieved by economic, cultural and scientific means, and not by means of intimidation.

But the current regime isn’t capable of performing this kind of U-turn. It is therefore crucially important to transfer the bulk of contacts and partnership projects to the level of ordinary people.

Over the past 25 years, millions of my fellow citizens have left Russia to live and work in Europe. They don’t lose their ties to Russia. Hundreds of thousands of people come from Europe to Russia.

This means hundreds of thousands, millions of communication lines. It represents a foundation for new approaches, for a consolidation of good-neighbourly relations.

Russia cannot and must not be isolated, yet it would be highly imprudent not to keep the Kremlin in check; for the Kremlin is imposing on Europe a set of its own so-called values: contempt for and distrust of people, systemic corruption, a brazen disregard for rules and agreements.

It is crucially important that we don’t just sit around and wait for the regime to “come to its senses,” or to collapse under the weight of its own inefficiency.

And it is imperative to recognise that strategic cooperation with the current regime on any issue is impossible. It is impossible because of the regime’s highly personalistic nature, and because of a lack of institutional guarantees, whether in business or in politics or in the humanitarian sphere.

This doesn’t change the fact of existing trade, specific one-off agreements, and even high-risk investments.

But we must shift our strategic focus towards direct interaction with citizens and civil society. They cannot sign any decrees, of course, but it’s on them that the shape of the future depends, and it is they who will determine what decrees will actually be implemented.

I am confident that the Boris Nemtsov Forum, inaugurated in Berlin last month, will become a permanent platform for dialogue.

I would like to thank all our partners – partners without whom the forum would not have been able to convene here in the European Parliament: the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom; the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom; the European Foundation for Democracy; and various political groups in the European Parliament, specifically ALDE, the European People’s Party (EPP), and the Greens Group. I would also like to express particular thanks to Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, for his support, and also to the European External Action Service (EEAS) for their support and participation. I wish you all success in your work.