Certain issues between Russia and EU do exist, but when there is a will, there is a way, and in a rapidly changing world Russia and Europe are naturally bonded with each other, Vizeu Pinheir believes.
- Your Excellency, you have recently arrived in Moscow. What are your first impressions? And what are your first aims as Ambassador to Russia?
My first impressions are very good. This is a comeback for me. I was here from 1998 to 2002. It was a time of big political and economic challenges. I went through two presidents, several prime ministers. What I did find in Moscow - that is became more beautiful city, very modern capital. Only thing that is still difficult, I think, is traffic, but I hope this will change also.
I see many changes in the last years. I see society that has opened many businesses, many stalls, retailers, restaurants and places to go, new theatres. In economic terms it also has improved massively. I was very impressed that Wi-Fi, digital devices are used so much. The IT services are very developed. I wasn't very surprised because we were witnessing this technological triumph already in 2002, openness of economy to more competitiveness, to more interconnections to outside world. So the changes that have occurred are very positive.
- Thank you very much. How can you describe relations between our countries today? What are the main spheres where we should develop our cooperation?
Our relations have always been good. Portugal and Russia historically have no barriers between them. We have always been good partners. We worked also through the changes that occurred when Russian Federation was created.
I should say that Portuguese and Russia consider things very much alike. We have global views, although my country is smaller. But we have global policy; it came from history of Portuguese presence around the world. When we work together to bring peace and stability to the world we are very good partners.
My new mission is based on four pillars: to increase further political dialogue, to increase economic dialogue, to increase cultural ties and also to increase our exchange on security matters.
- Could you expand on security matters?
Portugal and Russia are strong and close partners in many international organizations, in the fight against terrorism financing. Russia has huge experience in the matters of terrorism, radical Islamism, so I think that our cooperation in these matters is much needed. Also in the field of transnational crime, this often intertwined with terrorism. There are also new forms of terrorism that recently affected several Russian cities, including Moscow - I mean cyberterrorism, cyberattacks. So cybersecurity is one of the areas where we should also have close cooperation. So there are many areas and I look forward to increase cooperation in this domain.
- Could tell about any specific plans in economic cooperation?
We have Joint commission on economic and technical cooperation. We met two months ago in Kazan. It has several big dimensions - economic and commercial, investments, tourism, agricultural cooperation, civil protection. By the way, we are very grateful for the very important support given to Portugal in the several instances of civil emergencies, specifically in fighting the wildfires. This is mutual mechanism and we are looking forward to contribute in that.
All of this dimensions are moving forward, bringing closely the entrepreneurs. There are many areas where we can invest in each other, from textiles to car components to ICT to renewable energies. We are also looking for the ways in Moscow and in the regions to work on the technological start-ups.
- European Union several years ago introduced sanctions against Russia. Don't they get in the way of economic cooperation?
We are members of European Union, but we believe that EU should keep dialogue with Russia, and it is keeping it. We know the current political conditions and restraints. I wish that they wouldn't exist, but they do exist. There were circumstances that led to this. This is why Portugal supports all possible ways to implement Minsk agreements. It is very important to implement them satisfactorily under the Normandy format. That will bring forward relations between the EU and Russia.
Europe needs Russia and Russia needs Europe. For me Russia is part of the Europe. When I was raised I was reading and listening to the Russians writers and compositors: Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Bulgakov, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Rimsky-Korsakov. This is Russian culture, of course, but it is also European, it is as much European as Russian.
The world economic is changing so much from Asia to the Americas. Africa is emerging. In this world Russia and Europe, I think, are naturally bonded to get along with each other. It takes time, and we should overcome challenges, but when there is a will, there is a way. I think it was Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who said it recently. I'm strong believer in that.
I do believe that we will have to come to terms with each other and move ahead. From our side we’ll do our best to move ahead the relations. What concerns sanctions - there is much life besides and beyond the sanctions. That is where we are moving ahead. For us 90% of our economic and trade cooperation is not under sanctions. We need more Russian tourists in Portugal and more Portuguese tourists in Russia. Both societies has to win from close contacts and more openness. I know that is also President Putin's and Russian government's policy to increase people to people contacts and I think it is very fundamental in all areas - scientific, technological.
- You mentioned Minsk agreements, but what about Crimea? Recently Czech President Milos Zeman said about some kind of "buy-back". Does Portugal have its own vision how situation around Crimea could be resolved?
I would not comment on the personal opinion of President Zeman, but I do believe that implementing Minsk agreements will have multiplying effect. It will be mutually beneficial. We should invest strongly to find effective, pragmatic ways to implement in synchronized way all tasks of Minsk.
And then of course you know the position of EU and international community. I think it is also important to consider international law. Russia has always been its big defendant. We believe we can have common values about international law. I think that is the way forward - we have to find satisfactorily solution inside the international law system.
- You talked about security issues, but security is not only terrorism or cyber threats. There is history of Russia - West confrontation in Europe. Portugal air forces participate in patrolling Baltics with other NATO countries. What the point of it? Do you see any threat from Russia? Do you think that Europe should hold Russia at the borders of the Baltic states?
I'm not NATO ambassador. But there is NATO - Russia Council. It met recently. It is a good sign and first step to increase our dialogue both political and military. There is common wish to increase transparency and risk reduction.
NATO and Russia could be rather complimentary and could fulfill tasks for global security. Personally I don't think there is mutual perception of threat. That is what military alliances do - they build up collective security. But NATO is based on democracy, collective security, promotion of international stability. Russia also has the same objectives. So the dialogue is the way forward to overcome any misperceptions and to build on what we can do together.
Not many years ago we were involved in anti-piracy action. People tend to forget that Russian Navy was involved in anti-piracy alongside with NATO countries including Portuguese Navy. I'm very glad that we can have these positive tasks to fight common challenges.
Another one for sure is the question of terrorism. We are on the same side in fighting terrorism. Of course we can have differences in approaches but we are on the same side. So I think we need to increase our knowledge of each other and increase our dialogue on what we are and what we do. Secretary-General, Chairman of Military Committee, Russian Ambassador Grushko made their statements that there is dialogue between NATO and Russian strategic commanders. So there are meetings. I am optimist and I think that these meetings will bring forward positive agenda.
- Are there plans for any visits of Portuguese officials to Russia?
We are working on that. As I mentioned I have mandate to increase our political dialogue. We still have to agree the dates but I hope that in the near future our Foreign Ministers will meet together.
We will also have a chance for dialogue on culture because we have big Portuguese exhibition, “Lords of the Oceans”, coming in Russia this December and I hope it will be attended by many Russians. It is about Portugal in 16-18th centuries. President Vladimir Putin referred to that when I presented credentials.
- You mentioned tourism. What can Portugal do to increase tourism from Russia?
It is already started. We have daily direct flights. But I do believe we can have more than one direct flight a day or perhaps more than one destination. I believe it will be commercially interesting to have more than one destination between Portugal and Russia, perhaps flights from St. Petersburg or Yekaterinburg. It will be an important step.
A month ago World Travel Awards were given in St. Petersburg, it's like Oscar in tourism, and Portugal won 37 awards, including best destination award. Why? Because Portugal is not only sea and sunshine. It has culture, patrimony, world heritage sites, ecotourism, surfing. We have the highest waves in the world, 30 meters high, in Nazare. Portugal is the country where in the small space of territory you can find the biggest diversity of food and wine. Every hundred kilometers is the different wine region. So tourism is much diversified and not expensive.
- Portugal next year welcomes Eurovision contest. Russia this year had rather unpleasant experience with it when Yulia Samoilova couldn't go to Kiev. Should she expect any difficulties in Portugal?
First of all, we are very happy finally to accept Eurovision and I think it will be organized very well in Lisbon. Eurovision has its own set of rules and we will follow them. Portugal never politicizes cultural events. It would like to have healthy competition. Countries choose their representatives and as Portuguese Ambassador to Russia I am very happy that it be strongly represented at the contest. Music is about uniting people, not disuniting them.
- Well, about sport. Is there cooperation between Portugal and Russia on upcoming World Cup? As we know, Portugal is great football country and has much to teach.
There is cooperation already taking place between Portuguese and Russian football Federations. There were already some exchanges and visits and they will continue to occur. We were very pleased by the way Russia had organized Confederation Cup. World Cup is bigger event, but I trust we will have good locations to play.
As Ambassador I will be very much interested in seeing we will play to the end. My wish is the final between Russia and Portugal. It's not easy, but who knows? We could have Cristiano Ronaldo playing with Alan Dzagoev. Each player is a very good ambassador, winning or not winning. Having World Cup here is fantastic, because football like Olympics is about healthy competition, it helps peace, people to people contacts.
In any case it will be celebration for Russia because World Cup involves many businesses, modernization efforts. And I hope that Portugal and Russia will be partners on this modernization agenda, on diversification. Economy is becoming more complex worldwide so we need to diversify partners and economy itself, develop technology, concentrate on human capital. In 2010 President Putin - then he was prime minister - presented idea about economic cooperation space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. That entails many interesting ideas about Europe.