Relations between Russia and the European Union have reached the
point when the developments of the recent years should be
critically reassessed. Both Russia and the European Union are
dissatisfied with the general state of their relationship, as well
as with each other’s actions in specific situations.
The first signs of this discontent became apparent during
discussions over Russia’s Kaliningrad Region following the EU’s
enlargement. The controversy centered around the ability of Russian
citizens to freely travel between the region and the Russian
mainland. Russia and Europe realized for the first time that,
despite the ambitious integration agenda, they not only spoke
different languages but also failed to accept the intrinsic logic
of each other’s actions. Later, President Vladimir Putin sharply
criticized the European Commission for its unyielding position at
the talks on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. He
accused the Brussels bureaucracy of “attempting to arm-twist
Russia.” Following this scandal, there arose the diplomatic
conflict over the settlement of the Transdniestria problem. That
was the first time the Europeans clearly demonstrated to Moscow
that it could no longer consider itself absolutely free in taking
independent actions within the post-Soviet space.
It became absolutely clear that Russia-EU relations entered a
most complicated period when Russia took a tough stance on the
extension of the 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA)
to the new EU member states, and the European Commission and
European Parliament made highly critical statements against
THE CRITICAL MASS OF PROBLEMS
Who is to blame for the emerging problems? It is obvious that
each side has its share of responsibility. Russia appears not to be
ready to fulfill the obligations it assumed under the PCA. Moscow
has failed to establish a system of interaction with its neighbor
that corresponds with the EU’s magnitude. Likewise, the European
Union has proven itself incapable of building a relationship with
Russia as an equal strategic partner that consistently seeks
solutions to its own foreign policy tasks and observance of its
national interests. The new Russia that emerged in the last four
years does not conform with the existing Europeanization concept,
according to which Moscow should gradually adopt the principles
suggested by the EU as regards a nation’s domestic and foreign
policy. Russia is not willing to adjust its policies to the EU
requirements. In some fields (for example, with regard to the
ratification of the Kyoto Protocol), Russia’s goals for its
modernization run counter to the terms of cooperation put forward
by the EU.
At present, there are several serious knots of discord between
Russia and the European Union.
First, the parties differ in their approaches to the energy
issue. In the second half of 2003, it became obvious that the
Russian government intended to maintain its strategic control over
that sphere of the economy. Last year the Russian government upset
the EU by making it obvious that it realized the extent of its
mineral resources and that it was ready to use the energy lever in
its foreign policy. Meanwhile, over the last few years the problem
of energy safety has evolved into one of the most vital issues for
the European Union. However, the promising project of establishing
an energy dialog with Russia has stalled; nothing is yet clear
about European plans for investing in gas and oil production.
Second, Russia and Europe have been increasingly divided by
problems associated with the post-Soviet space. Moscow’s projects
for economic integration between the member states of the
Commonwealth of Independent States, and its own strategy of
settling local conflicts, did not receive a positive response from
the EU. On the other hand, the European Union has to intensify its
policy toward countries in the western part of the CIS and in the
South Caucasus, since following EU enlargement these regions will
become the Union’s immediate neighbors. Simultaneously, the
European project attracts the attention of the elites in a majority
of post-Soviet states – a factor that greatly increases the rivalry
between Russia and the European Union.
Just one example: the EU is intensifying its pressure on the
Moldovan leadership in order to enforce its own plan for settling
the conflict in Transdniestria without the active participation of
Russia. This conflict is regarded by Brussels as a good way to
field-test the instruments of its general foreign and security
Third, the accession of Central and East European countries to
the EU may also bring their traditionally strong anti-Russian
sentiments to the European Union policy. Some new members of the EU
will probably attempt to get financial and political dividends due
to their status of ‘pseudo-frontline’ territories; they will
predictably embellish their concerns about bordering on the
allegedly unfriendly state. Furthermore, the new EU members may
attempt to act as the ‘lawyers’ of the CIS countries in Wider
Europe – naturally, to Russia’s discontent.
Fourth, the shortage of diplomacy has become a problem. On the
one hand, Moscow’s seeking to minimize its economic losses as a
result of the EU expansion has come as a surprise to Brussels. (It
should be admitted, though, that it is rather odd that Russia’s
14-point list of concerns emerged only in January 2004, not a year
or a year and a half earlier.) On the other hand, bureaucratic
Brussels does not regard Russia’s negotiating course as adequate.
The EU is annoyed at Moscow’s constant attempts to interconnect
problems that are not directly related to each other. As a result,
even relatively simple questions remain unresolved, thereby
increasing the potential for a major conflict. What is more, the
West knows from experience that after Moscow’s stern statements
about the inadmissibility of the EU conditions and threats to take
countermeasures (which are usually not realized), it eventually
gives in and presents a limited and ‘realistic’ list of demands. In
any case, Brussels is prepared to consider the 14-point list as
merely a “technical list” because it does not really think that the
European Union should compensate an outside state (especially a
non-member of the WTO) for any negative consequences that may
result from the Union’s purely internal decisions. Besides, Russia
already has set a precedent by giving its consent to the automatic
extension of the PCA to the new EU member countries (as happened in
1995, when Austria, Finland and Sweden became EU members).
Fifth, primary integration projects, such as establishing an
energy dialog or creating four common spaces, are at a standstill
(at the Russia-EU summit in Rome on November 6, 2003, the parties
agreed to start forming a common economic space; a space of
cooperation in the field of external security; a common space of
freedom, security and justice; and a space of research and
education, including cultural aspects).
The negotiations on Russia’s accession to the WTO have been
difficult. This is partly due to the extremely high initial
expectations, and partly because Russia has proven to be unprepared
to fulfill its obligations. A glaring example is Moscow’s stated
intention for unilaterally bringing its domestic laws into
accordance with the European ones, which was agreed upon in Article
55 of the PCA in 1994. However, in practice there has been no
progress in this direction for ten years, which has naturally
aroused the irritation of the law-abiding Europeans. It can be
questioned whether Russia was right in assuming those obligations,
but refusing to fulfill them without an official denouncement, in
the EU’s opinion, cannot be justified by any circumstances. The
same is true with respect to the Kyoto Protocol, opening of the
banking and insurance services market, and other questions, on
which Russia’s positions were essentially perceived as obligations,
if not formal ones.
From the EU’s point of view, Russia has no desire to take into
account its interests or the interests of its member countries and
economic agents. For example, Moscow is in no hurry to alleviate
the Europeans of their worries over environmental issues or
maritime safety. It does not provide its regions with sufficient
freedom in foreign economic activity – and that is precisely what
European businesses are pressing for, since they do not want to
operate exclusively via Moscow. Furthermore, Russia has been
toughening its visa procedures for EU citizens.
And, finally, EU relations with Russia are influenced by the
squabbles inside the EU. The Iraqi war has demonstrated the
inability of the European Union to draw up a uniform policy toward
the U.S., while the November 2003 Russia-EU summit has brought to
light the same problem with respect to Moscow. But if the EU,
which, following its enlargement, it will control over 50 percent
of foreign trade with Russia, fails to shape its relations with
Russia in a preferable or, at least, an acceptable way, will be
nothing but an economic community with a limited list of police
functions. If this is the case, then all arguments about the EU’s
global role will be just idle talk.
Attempts by the Europeans to overcome their internal crisis make
them seek ways to show their efficiency, for example, in their
relations with Russia. The incomplete settlement of the situation
in Chechnya, and Russia’s thorny political processes provide the
European intellectuals and politicians with an excellent
opportunity to show their worth in defending democratic norms and
human rights. The Old World does not seem to get tired of
criticizing Russia. It incessantly calls for taking a harder
position – and even adopting sanctions – against Russia.
TOWARD A NEW MODEL OF MUTUAL RELATIONS?
Against this background, attempts are being made in the European
Union to revise the basic parameters of its relations with Russia.
In December 2003, the European Council instructed the Commission of
the European Communities to assess the state of the EU’s Russia
policy and offer recommendations on how to improve it. The EU
Council of Ministers was asked to consider the Commission’s
proposals and make its conclusions. The European Parliament decided
to formulate its own position as well.
These efforts resulted in three documents approved by the EU
official bodies: a report of the European Parliament Committee on
Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defense Policy,
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European
Parliament on Relations with Russia, and Conclusions of the
European Council on Relations with Russia.
These documents clearly differ from each other by their tone.
The European parliamentarians gave an unambiguously negative
assessment on the lead up to, and the results, of Russia’s State
Duma elections, the settlement process in the Chechen Republic and
the question of human rights there, the status of mass media and
law enforcement practices in Russia, and Moscow’s role in
Transcaucasia and Moldova. The report points out that “Chechnya is
not only an ‘internal affair’ to Russia because violations of human
rights are self-evidently threats to international security.” The
report draws special attention to Russia’s reluctance to extend the
1994 Agreement with the EU to the countries in Central and Eastern
Europe that are to join the European Union, and to Russia’s delay
in ratifying border treaties with Latvia and Estonia. Finally, the
parliamentarians called for a better coordination of actions by
individual states and pan-European institutions with respect to
The Communication document contains much less emotional
assessments of Russia’s internal developments and relations with
the EU. In particular, the Commission stressed the need to continue
with the dialog on the creation of four common spaces. At the same
time, the document drew attention to the latest elections to the
State Duma and an assessment by the OSCE and the Council of
Europe. It restated concern over the human rights situation in the
The Commission proposed a more efficient policy for protecting
the basic interests of the European Union. These are the
ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, maritime and nuclear safety,
readmission negotiations, the facilitation of humanitarian aid
delivery, the ratification of border agreements with Latvia and
Estonia, the extension of the PCA to the countries that are to join
the EU, Siberian overflight payments, cooperation in the
exploration of outer space, energy sector reform, and Russian
safeguard measures. The Commission intends to improve the
coordination of the EU members’ policy vis-a-vis Russia.
The Commission recommended the EU Council to “move away from
grand political declarations and establish an issues-based strategy
and agenda.” The Euro-bureaucrats pointed out that “Russian
practices run counter to universal and European values,” as well as
to the basic goals of cooperation. The Communication proposed
“drawing up an objectives paper for Summits, which should clearly
draw ‘red lines’ for the EU, positions, beyond which the EU will
not go,” and presenting a “draft joint Action Plan to Russia
covering all four [common] spaces.”
However, the final word belonged to the EU Council which met in
Brussels on February 23 in the foreign ministers format. The
Council’s conclusions expressed the EU’s resolve to build “a
genuine strategic partnership with Russia based on equal rights and
obligations, mutual trust and an open and frank dialog.” It also
stated that the EU “has a strong and genuine interest in an open,
stable and democratic Russia.”
The Council said the European Union is “open to discuss any of
Russia’s legitimate concerns over the impact of [EU] enlargement,”
but added that “this shall remain entirely separate from PCA
extension.” The Council pointed to the need to identify and
formulate EU interests, objectives and priorities in its dialog
All the three official documents expressed dissatisfaction with
the state of EU-Russia relations, criticized the EU’s ability to
conduct a single and well-coordinated policy vis-a-vis Russia, and
recognized the need to continue the course toward Russia’s
integration through joint long-term projects, such as the creation
of four common spaces.
In contrast with the EU’s previous official statements, the
documents call on the European Union to build relations with Russia
on the basis of an increased rationalism, proceeding primarily from
its own interests. Until recently, the EU official bodies did not
mention EU interests as the basis for their negotiating positions.
On the contrary, the EU always emphasized a community of interests
between the European Union and Russia.
In other words, this new approach of the EU is of a dual nature.
On the one hand, the dissatisfaction is accompanied by the desire
to improve and develop, rather than freeze, its relations with
Russia. On the other hand, the EU has already shown signs of a
readiness for decreasing the significance of this mutual
relationship; a diplomatic conflict is not out of the question
should events not develop in accordance with the EU’s scenario.
The resolute tone of the EU’s latest official documents is, to a
certain extent, part of its negotiating strategy. The discussion of
vital issues, such as the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol,
Russia’s accession to the WTO, and PCA extension, provokes
excessive emotion on both sides. However, the number of the adopted
documents and their content suggest that the EU may adopt a new
policy vis-a-vis Russia.
What conceptual fundamentals may underlie this policy?
The EU still holds to the model where Russia accepts basic
European norms and values, that is, its Europeanization. Therefore
the European parliamentarians dismiss the idea of building
relations with Russia according to the ‘Chinese model,’ i.e.
exclusively in the economic field.
At the same time, this approach is already coming into obvious
conflict with the new policy of upholding Europe’s own
interests. The idea that Russia’s integration into Europe is
possible in principle, and that Russia could become a member of the
community of nations sharing similar values, has been circulating
throughout Europe, although it has never prevailed. Now it is
becoming increasingly weaker. The edifice of common interests has
been built on the basis of common values, but if values differ,
then the community of interests weakens. This is the scenario we
are now witnessing. There is a growing sentiment that Russia is
unintegrable in principle and that it remains a natural
partner (and rival at the same time) outside the European
In part, Russia itself feeds this sentiment by demanding a free
hand in its foreign and domestic policies, by stipulating its
special interests in Central Asia and in the Caucasus, and by
defining the EU solely as its security partner in Europe in the
context of Russia’s mid-term strategy. This approach paves the way
for the principles of traditional Realpolitik, as opposed
to the integration euphoria that was popular ten years ago.
In the opinion of many people in Europe, the dividing line
between integrable and unintegrable spaces lies along Russia’s
western border. This factor causes the European Union to initiate
the development of an alternative project in the western part of
the Commonwealth of Independent States, and decrease Russia’s
influence in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. The EU ceases to take
into consideration Russia’s interests in this region. In the next
few years, the EU may deliberately torpedo Russian integration
projects in the western part of the CIS.
The interpretation of a common border function is changing, too.
The course toward developing transborder cooperation with Russia is
gradually giving way to a border management policy.
Whereas earlier the EU emphasized the effect of its ongoing
integration on relations between people living on different sides
of the border, today the border is again viewed as a dividing line,
which will remain so for an indefinite period of time.
The idea of establishing a visa-free regime between Russia and
the EU – without which a common economic space will remain just a
declaration – has been shelved. Instead, visa procedures have been
simplified for certain groups of citizens. The Europeans have
repeatedly initiated discussions about the demarcation of the
Ukrainian-Russian border and the establishment of a tougher border
regime there. This would build an additional symbolic wall between
Russia and Europe.
A NEW OLD MODEL
The EU’s ‘new’ model for Russian-European relations features the
same dual nature between the parties, which they have had in the
last decade. On the one hand, the EU declares its wish to create,
together with Moscow, something really common. In order to achieve
this goal, Russia must adopt European values. In reality, however,
when it comes to practical issues that are of importance to the
Europeans, the official EU bodies treat Russia as an outside
partner, whose interests often do not coincide with those of
Europe. The bargaining between the parties would be more
appropriate for EU relations with non-European China, or perhaps
Japan, than for its relations with a country which ten years ago
proclaimed its fundamental choice in favor of Europe.
Yet, the EU keeps insisting that the PCA is the cornerstone of
its relations with Russia, and that its objectives are still
relevant. This agreement has a pronounced integrationist nature
based on the need for Russia to adopt European values. And it is
Moscow’s regular failures in this respect that arouse the main
criticism on the part of the EU.
A ‘partnership’ of this kind is simply doomed to the cyclic
reproduction of crises. In 2002, it was the transit of Russian
citizens to Kaliningrad; in 2003, it was Russia’s future accession
to the WTO; in 2004, it is PCA extension. In the future, conflicts
may emerge over the fate of Belarus and Transdniestria, for
There is something schizophrenic about the Russian-European
relations, because neither party wishes to openly admit that they
represent absolutely different political and economic systems.
Therefore, their integration is unfeasible, at least in the
mid-term. And if there is no chance for Russia’s membership in the
EU, why should Moscow adopt its political and legal standards?
IS THERE LIFE AFTER THE PCA?
An unbiased analysis of present Russia-EU relations shows that
both sides lack a strategic vision of the future. The new
cooperative initiatives of the parties, whether it is a free trade
zone, an energy dialog or a common economic space, remain stuck
within the framework of the formal integration model of the early
1990s, which has repeatedly demonstrated its ineffectiveness.
Perhaps, it is time to switch to a more pragmatic model and to
revise the very ideology underlying Russia-EU cooperation. Russia
could waive its repeatedly declared argument about its European
identity since it cannot be formalized by the country’s accession
to the EU. In turn, the European Union would give up its doctrine
of Russia’s Europeanization, the backbone of its policy in recent
years. (The U.S. record, for example, shows that democracy and a
market economy can get along fine with, say, the death
A change of the paradigm – from integration to cooperation in a
specific field – would help clear the relations of excessive
political rhetoric and make them more oriented toward practical
results. There is a very big danger here, though, namely with a
potentially negative interpretation of pragmatism. Some view
pragmatism as purely utilitarian relations based on the
‘scratch-my-back-and-I-will-scratch-yours’ principle. Such a model
bears a strong resemblance to the former relations between the
European countries and the Soviet Union. The import of Soviet oil
and gas did not prevent the Europeans, together with the U.S., from
fighting the Kremlin on the Cold War fronts.
Superimposing that discarded model onto the 21st century
situation will produce a dismal picture. Today’s interaction,
despite all of the complications, is aimed at strengthening a
constructive interdependence; nevertheless, this relationship will
give way to cooperation out of despair. Europe is unable to quickly
replace Russian resources with any other source. However, the EU
will undoubtedly seek to reduce its dependence on Russia through
developing alternative sources of hydrocarbons. In practice, this
will mean not investing in the construction of new facilities in
the Russian energy infrastructure, such as the North European gas
pipeline, which was signed into life in 2003.
In the political realm, the European Union will try to increase
its influence in Central Asia and the Caspian region, and bring
local resources into the world market. The U.S., which generally is
suspicious of European activity in strategic regions beyond the Old
World, will nevertheless support them in this case since the
maximum diversification of natural resources meets its own
interests. Moscow will be hard-pressed to find other ‘general
partners’: its territorial dispute with Japan will hardly be
settled in the mid-term, while the ability and, more importantly,
the desire of China to participate in major modernization projects
in Russia raise big doubts.
The policy of pushing Russia to the periphery of international
politics will make its enclosure in the god-forsaken region of
northeast Eurasia a reality. This will give Russians the impression
that they are living in a besieged fortress – with all of the
ensuing political and economic consequences.
There is another scenario: the parties will give up the idea of
their political and legal integration and preserve close and
constructive interaction. A necessary prerequisite for that is
Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Many of the
deadlocks that cloud Brussels-Moscow relations could be broken if
the parties were guided by WTO principles. These principles help
Europeans reach compromises with Japan and the U.S., for example,
although their disputes occasionally develop into trade wars.
The situation has turned into a vicious circle, though. The
uncompromising position of the Europeans hinders the conclusion of
the talks on Russia’s accession to the WTO. An agreement on this
issue would pave the way for the further development of relations.
In any case, Russia will have to actively conduct liberal reforms,
open up some of its economic sectors (banking and insurance), and
harmonize its legislation with that of Europe, at least in certain
The idea to create four common spaces, even though it was born
within the framework of a defective model of relations, has an
immense practical potential. But it should be completed and
implemented not by bureaucrats. Oftentimes they are not qualified
to handle such a task, and only address this issue because it is
their official duty. The initiative must come from the business
community, whose interest is obvious, as well as from the
intellectual communities of Russia and Europe. Otherwise, this
issue, of strategic importance to both Russia and the EU, may get
bogged down in idle rhetoric and never be resolved.
Russia and the EU may pattern their relations, in the long term,
after the ‘Norwegian model.’ Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein,
which are not EU members, build their relations with the EU on the
Agreement for the European Economic Area. Russia would be rewarded
for its reforms with an ability to share with the EU the European
four main freedoms of movement – the movement of goods, services,
capital and people. The ‘Norwegian model’ also provides for a
limited participation of an EU partner in preparing EU legislative
acts at the pre-drafting stage.
The above, however, is not an issue of our immediate future.
Presently, the most pressing issue is a mutual discussion
concerning the entire range of accumulated problems, as well as the
prospects for future Russian-European relations.
Administrative bodies of Russia and the European Union must be
relieved of the duties they are not supposed to be performing, that
is, drafting a strategic agenda. A strategy for mutual relations
should be worked out by a non-governmental forum, which would start
open, impartial, sometimes undiplomatic discussions. The
discussions will help to identify potential sources of crises and
reach mutual consensus on the future of Russia-EU relations. Step
by step, the parties must create a mechanism for the civilized
lobbying of interests, which would replace the existing model,
which only succeeds at reproducing crises.
Nobody will benefit from the end of Russia’s Europeanization.
For Russia, it would mean finding itself on the sidelines of
international politics and having little chance for successful
modernization. For the EU, it would imply the collapse of a major
European project, which will always remain incomplete without
Russia’s natural and stable participation.