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Russia is EU’s ‘strategic problem,’ not strategic partner — European Council head

According to Tusk, his main focus was to maintain European unity, for which "Kremlin's aggressive policy" was the main challenge

BRUSSELS, November 14. /TASS/. Outgoing European Council President Donald Tusk said that throughout the five years of his term, he had been assuring European leaders that Russia was the European Union’s "strategic problem," not "strategic partner."

"I had to publicly remind others, almost every week, that Russia is not our ‘strategic partner’, but our ‘strategic problem’. I was even labelled a ‘monomaniac’, for being so focused on this subject," he said in a speech in the College of Europe in Bruges on Wednesday.

According to Tusk, his main focus was to maintain European unity, to which "Kremlin's aggressive policy" was the main challenge.

"I was (and still am) convinced that, in this game, what is at stake, is not only the future of independent Ukraine and the security of Central Europe, including that of my country, but the sovereignty of Europe as a political entity," he continued. "And I had no doubt that Putin's strategic goal was not only to regain control of the former Soviet Union territories, but also to systematically weaken the EU by provoking internal divisions."

Tusk said his efforts eventually "paid off."

"We maintained our unity, also in terms of sanctions, throughout my entire term," he added.

He also said that he was not planning to persuade the Polish government to review the stance on Russia of the country and the European Union in general, as French President Emmanuel Macron asked him to.

"And this is why when I hear Macron's words [in an interview with The Economist last week], that ‘we must reconsider our position with Russia, to rethink the strategic relationship,’ I can only express hope that it will not happen at the cost of our common dreams about Europe's sovereignty," Tusk said. "In the same interview for The Economist, President Macron says that he shares the same views on this subject as [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orbon, and that he hopes that Mr Orban will help convince Poles to change their position on Russia. Maybe, but not me, Emmanuel.

Moreover, Tusk keep addressing Macron, saying that the European Union should be persistent in its tough stance on Russia.

"There will be no sovereign Europe without stable Balkans integrated with the rest of the continent, and you don’t need to be a historian to understand this," the outgoing European Council president continued. "And there will be no sovereign Europe without an independent Ukraine. Our tough and consistent stance on Russia was the first expression, so clear and unambiguous, of our sovereignty. We must persevere in this."

In an interview with the UK-based magazine, The Economist, Macron said last week that Europe needed to resume dialogue with Russia despite suspicions from Poland, Baltic states and some other countries. According to Macron, "re-opening a dialogue with Russia despite suspicion from Poland and other countries that were once under Soviet domination" could help Europe "start thinking and acting not only as an economic grouping, whose chief project is market expansion, but as a strategic power," the magazine wrote. If Europe fails to do so, it would be a "huge mistake."

The Economist notes that Macron did not call for removing the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukrainian crisis. However, he pointed out that efforts to establish peace in the country were a long-term strategy that could take decades.