Reaffirming the Benefits of Russia’s European Choice
No. 3 2005 July/September
Arkady Moshes

Arkady Moshes is Program Director of the EU Eastern Neighborhood and Russia Research Program at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.


Today, few members of Russia’s expert community would argue that
the country’s social and economic revitalization will be an easy
process, if at all possible, without close contacts with the
European Union. Most experts agree that Europe is the best natural
partner for Russia due to the shared cultural traditions between
the countries, as well as the tendency of the Russian people to
embrace a European self-identification. In this sense, Russia’s
policy has two imperatives: a civilizational one that compels it to
integrate into the processes of globalization, and a modernization
imperative. Both fit fairly well into the format of Russia’s
so-called ‘European choice.’

The logic of Europeanization for Russia, however, loses its
shine once it becomes understandable that practical implementation
of the European choice course means accepting some long-established
rules that will remain in place despite Russian influence;
moreover, accepting these rules will actually damage Russia’s
interests. It appears that Russia faces unjustified, biased, or
simply humiliatingly stringent requirements; such claims are not
groundless. Thus, some people tend to conclude that integration
into Europe will strip Russia of its influence in the immediate
region, not to mention around the world, and turn it into a
second-rate power even on the continental scale.

The concept of Russia’s policy toward Europe aims to maintain
relations of equitable partnership lest the country should lose its
status. Since this goal is unattainable due to the imbalance of
economic powers, as well as the attractiveness of social models
(many Russians would welcome European living standards, for
example, but not vice versa), its practical implementation boils
down to Russia keeping its options open, renouncing obligations to
bridge the gap between Russian and EU norms, and staking at
selective cooperation in a handful of spheres where our resources
are still comparable (in the energy and security sectors, for

Since the end of 2002, mutual expectations between Russia and
the EU have witnessed a certain slide. This was partially due to
Moscow’s conscientious rejection to integrate its political, legal
and economic policies into the European system, which was the
underlying idea of “harmonization of norms and rules.” The
EU-Russia Common Strategy, although obviously declaratory in
nature, originally contained visions of Russia as being an element
of a United Europe. In the summer of 2004, however, this
possibility became devoid of force de jure, but its actual demise
occurred a year earlier. In 2007, the 1994 Partnership and
Cooperation Agreement (PCA) will expire, and since its provisions
will not be fulfilled before the expiration date it is highly
doubtful that it will be replaced by a document of equal status.
The sides will certainly have problems in deciding on the binding
legal obligations of the new agreement and in specifying sanctions
for their non-commitment. It seems quite possible that the Road
Maps on Russia-EU Common Spaces (involving economics, external
security, freedom/security/justice, and science/education/culture)
endorsed in Moscow in May 2005 will take the PCA’s place
indefinitely. It should be noted that such arrangements do not
always go beyond dialog  and are quite indistinct.

Russia-EU interaction process has taken the form of the Mobius
Strip. After formally fulfilling the requirements of the
Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which certainly contained
strong integration potential, Russia has gone back to cooperation
in individual projects, albeit big ones, i.e. in the same manner
with which the Soviet Union made headway into the Gorbachev era.
Russia has failed to design a strategic vision of future bilateral
relations, and common sense prompts that stagnation and regress are
inevitable in such a situation.

Against this background, Moscow’s unwillingness to follow the
path of integration with Europe is not accompanied by a build-up of
its own influence, contrary to the logic of those who support its
independence from institutional restrictions. Russia is losing its
positions in the former Soviet republics and will most likely see a
further loss of its international power resource unless it turns
its policy toward Europe. Russia would be wise to reject its
position as an external player toward the EU and attempt to
influence the system from the inside the way leading European
powers do. Russia should seriously consider the creation of an
integration paradigm of relations with the EU.


Russia is losing its positions in Europe, systemically and
qualitatively, along two relatively new fronts. First, it is
acquiring the image of a weak and undemocratic country that is
unwilling to reform itself efficiently. The hostage crisis at a
school in Beslan, demonstrations against social benefits reform,
the YUKOS affair, a critical economic dependence on oil exports and
sweeping corruption – all these factors have revived the image of
Russia as alien to Europe (Europe’s Other) which faded in the

The spread of that image will have a direct political impact on
Russia. If it remains an alien body for the Europeans – a Nigeria
or Algeria, for example, in the Siberian style – it is natural to
expect that Europe will resort to an egoistic policy toward it,
aimed only at winning access to Russia’s sources of natural wealth
and transit routes, as well as stripping it of natural competitive
advantages. Simultaneously, the Europeans will seal themselves off
from the associated risks of cooperating with Moscow and resort to
a “soft security” policy. Later, they will cover up everything with
diplomatic niceties at summit conferences.

At the same time, Russia could hope for a more balanced response
from the Europeans if it were ready to build rapport with Europe on
a more systemic basis. Russia’s adherence to the model of selective
interaction, however, leads to a situation where the Europeans also
begin subscribing to the so-called “cherry picking tactics.” And it
cannot be denied that they are quite efficient in doing so. In the
past several years, the majority of disputes between Moscow and
Brussels have been settled on the terms of the latter. This
conclusion is readily seen by the creation of a transit route
between the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia
via Lithuanian territory, the proliferation of Partnership and
Cooperation Agreements onto the new EU members, and Moscow’s
ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Incidentally, there is no
certainty that the signing of a re-admission agreement with Europe
will eventually exempt Russian nationals from the Schengen visa
rules. Most likely, this agreement will be substituted for by the
liberalization of visa issuance, which in practical terms, however,
means little for most people.

Another detrimental effect associated with Russia’s image of a
country alien to Europe is that this negative representation is
used by countries having problematic relations with Russia to
consolidate their own positions inside the Union. In 1995,
relations between Russia and the Baltic countries were as troubled
as in 2005; the Europeans were as much sensitive toward the war in
Chechnya as they are now, while NATO’s eastward expansion was
already on the agenda. Despite these issues, the topic of “Soviet
occupation” of the Baltic countries had an incomparably smaller
place in the Western mass media in comparison with today. The
Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians have irreversibly become the
“friends” of the Europeans over the past ten years, that is, they
are a priori the nations to be trusted and supported, while Russia
has lost the opportunity for a common future or has blatantly
rejected it. Russia can demonstrate righteous indignation over the
question of double standards, and offer strong reactions to the
overtly provocative gestures and statements on the part of some
Baltic leaders, but that will hardly help eliminate the
disadvantages of being categorized as “a foe” in their eyes.


Another sphere where Russia has lost its influence pertains to
those European CIS countries which have become reoriented toward
the EU (although to variable degrees) and have adopted a new system
of guidelines. The post-Soviet space, where Russia was once a
powerful player by virtue of history, ceased to exist and has
turned into an “intermediate Europe;” in other words, the shape of
the present EU at a much earlier date. Russia started losing its
attractiveness for socially and politically active sections of the
population for a number of reasons, including the folding up of
democracy, loss of its leading position in the CIS in terms of the
rate and quality of economic growth, scale of terrorist activity,
etc. Meanwhile, Europe acquired attractiveness as a zone of
stability and economic prosperity, and a considerable part of the
people in the CIS countries began to realize they had a choice.

Ukraine has advanced the farthest among the former CIS countries
along the path of reorientation toward the EU (this is specially
italicized since the NATO option has minor support there). The
Ukrainians have something bigger than abstract notions on the
benefits of the European choice. They have developed the
assuredness that it is achievable. According to polls, in the past
few years 50 to 60 percent of Ukrainians spoke in favor of joining
the EU and only 10 percent were against the idea. A poll conducted
by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology in April 2005
indicated that 48.6 percent of the respondents were confident that
the EU would accept their country while 23.1 percent believed their
country would be rejected. According to the Kiev-based Razumkov
Center of Economic and Political Studies, Ukraine has nearly equal
numbers of supporters of the Russian and EU options as foreign
policy priorities. The spring 2005 poll revealed more supporters of
the EU, but this opinion has changed many times over the years. The
situation looks quite different, however, if you consider the age
of the respondents. Supporters of the Russian option are mostly
older than 50, while those between the ages of 18 and 39 give
preference to the EU (44 to 46 percent versus 30 to 33 percent,
respectively, in February 2005).

There are two factors of critical importance for the rise of
such sentiments. First, a large number of people with close
contacts in Central Europe, or with a record of immigrant work in
the old European countries, have formed favorable opinions about
life in Europe. Owing to their high rate of personal, employment
and social mobility, these people are confident that Ukraine will
be able to adapt to the EU accession requirements. Second, the EU
had become a leading importer of Ukrainian products even before its
eastward expansion. Ukrainian corporations have developed a taste
for doing business in Europe and have begun praising their stable
rules of the game.

That is why the Yushchenko administration’s goal of attaining EU
membership is absolutely logical. Of course, its attempt may flop –
largely due to internal political problems – and the country may
slide into a period of irregular development, but it is doubtful
that the European option will retreat from its present positions

Similar processes are taking place in other countries, as well.
Moldova, for example, experienced a dramatic change recently as
President Voronin, a pro-Russian politician just four years ago,
decided he could use turbulent relations with Moscow as a platform
for his re-election campaign, regardless of Brussels’ ability – or
inability – to settle the dragged-out conflict in the secessionist
Dniester region.

The situation looks far from ordinary even in Belarus, a country
distanced much farther away from Europe in terms of information.
Polls conducted by the Minsk-based Institute for Social, Economic
and Political Research suggest that the share of proponents of the
country’s accession to the EU never dropped below 50 percent since
2002. In spring 2005, 52.8 percent spoke in favor of accession
while 44.4 percent were against the idea. Meanwhile, the amorphous
integration with Russia – that is, the maintenance of its current
model – got support from less than one half of the respondents, and
only 14 to 15 percent spoke in favor of a unified state. Almost one
half of Belarusians do not support the introduction of the Russian
ruble as a single monetary unit, while the percentage of its
supporters stands between 30 and 35 percent. The popularity of the
European choice is likely to grow in the next few years under the
impact of developments in Ukraine and – to a greater degree – in
Poland. Belarus will follow in Ukraine’s footsteps after Alexander
Lukashenko leaves the presidential office.

The issue of accepting European influence has also sprung up in
the South-Caucasian countries, although to a far smaller degree and
in somewhat different forms. The EU has included Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia in the European Neighborhood Policy. The
inclusion of these countries will unlikely have any major effects
in the short term, but things may change in the future if one
considers the possibility of Turkey’s accession to the EU at the
end of next decade.


One should seriously question those conspiracy theories that
suggest the EU is intentionally pushing Russia out of the western
parts of the post-Soviet space. Most EU member-nations have small
economic interests in that region, at least for now. Nor do they
have illusions as to the huge cost of integrating the regional
countries into the EU. That is why they continue giving priority to
Russia and would like to avert unnecessary conflicts with it (this
was evidenced by the telephone call Germany’s Federal Chancellor
Schroeder made to President Putin at the peak of the Orange
Revolution in Kiev). It also explains why Brussels officials are
pondering an intermediary status of some kind for Ukraine, and are
not especially willing to offer it the prospect of membership. And
yet the EU continues to enlarge eastwards due to pressure by the
new member-states which have their own interests and ability to
shape the EU’s line of conduct – a power that should not be
underrated. The new neighbors have realized they can be actors too,
and not merely objects in policy-making.

Russia is trying to prevent the emergence of new division lines
in Europe, for example, along Ukraine’s eastern border, while
maintaining, at the same time, the old borders along Ukraine’s
western border. It was one of the reasons why Moscow interfered
actively in the election campaigns in Ukraine in 2004 and Moldova
in 2005. Interference in the Ukrainian parliamentary election in
2006 is also a possibility. But its real capability for an
efficient policy arouses grave doubts. Unlike the Soviet Union with
its ideology of world Communism or imperial Russia with security
guarantees, as well as Pan-Slavism and Orthodoxy, the Russian
Federation does not have an attractive project to offer these days.
The “carrot” it can offer does not look appealing enough, while
Russia’s “stick” can definitely make the political regimes and
people of neighboring countries more problematic. No one can
guarantee, however, that economic sanctions will prove efficacious:
The blockade of the Abkhazian border in December 2004 failed to
bring the pro-Moscow candidate Raul Khadzhimba to presidency in
that breakaway region of Georgia. Furthermore, sanctions may turn
out to be altogether impossible (suffice it to recall who controls
Russia’s transit pipelines). On the face of it, hitting the wallets
of ordinary people may provoke a harsh reaction toward Russia as
opposed to any anticipated affections, as well as alienate it.

There seems to be a different solution to Russia’s quandary: the
division line along the “friend or foe” principle must be moved to
Russia’s eastern border. If this is not accomplished, Russia will
not be able to avoid the erosion of the common civilizational and
cultural space in Ukraine and Belarus, to say nothing of the
dangers of ending up isolated against a destabilizing South and
growing China.

The acceptance of the slogan “Together with Ukraine into
Europe!” seems to be quite a feasible choice for Russia. The
Ukrainians are not interested in a tough choice that will subject
them to any sort of a breaking point. Unlike the Baltic countries,
anti-Russian sentiments are marginal in Ukraine and pragmatism
dominates everywhere. Surprising as it may seem, only 18.4 percent
of people in the traditionally nationalistic western regions of
Ukraine spoke in favor of a complete pull out of the CIS Common
Economic Area that unites Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.
At the same time, Ukraine has identified its foreign policy
priorities: it will integrate into Europe and cooperate with Russia
and not vice versa. Thus, Russia will never win a zero-sum game
from Ukraine.


There is a prevalent conviction in Russia that Europe is
unprepared to build an integration relationship with it. This
belief is justified in many ways, yet it does not reflect the whole
truth since the Europeans have had no need to formulate a clear-cut
position on the issue at this time. Paradoxically, European
discussions concerning Russia’s possible membership mostly boil
down to the conclusion that Russia is not seeking it. There will be
no serious answers from the European side until Russia loudly
proclaims it is willing to integrate and proves its ability to move
along that path.

Along these lines, the European policy has several imperatives
that integration with Russia agrees with. First, Russia’s
integration is the only method of rounding out the so-called
European project, since all other methods can only move the EU’s
border eastwards. The prospect for Turkey’s accession, for example,
has invalidated the argument about the impossibility of integrating
countries with predominantly Asiatic territories (and “huge
populations” like Russia – in a few years, Turkey will have a
greater population than Russia). Russia is a European country in
all other respects. Slavs who are brought up in the traditions of
Eastern Orthodox Christianity make up the majority of its
population, while the share of its Moslem population does not
exceed that of France. Russia’s ‘European self-identification’
differs from the accepted version in the EU, but redefining itself
as ‘Asiatic’ would be totally out of place. Considering existing
European legislation, Russia has every right to apply for

Second, history has taught Europe that integration on the basis
of systemic transformation provides much stronger guarantees of
predictable and friendly conduct on the part of countries, and big
countries in particular, than any economic inter-dependence. Third,
the EU is gradually turning into a global force in spheres that go
beyond the economy; and by pooling their potentialities in
cooperation with Russia, the Europeans could raise their presence
on the Asian and Atlantic flanks to a fundamentally new level.
Lastly, integration would provide the Europeans with much better
access to Russia’s energy resources.

The likelihood that Russia will receive a negative response to
its application (only Morocco’s application has been rejected thus
far, since its non-European identity did not require strong proofs)
is reduced by the fact that it may first integrate with Europe
according to some special format. And that is different from
becoming an EU member. In that case, Russia would have to fully
adopt the European understanding of democracy and supremacy of law
(the conspicuous ‘values’), as well as partially adopt the acquis
communautaire (of course, not in the first phases of the process).
The above would help Russia to mitigate the nervous disdain among
the ‘old European countries’ over the EU’s further spread, which
seems to be quite rampant following its largest enlargement in


The most important objective for Russia in its relations with
the EU is to make a strategic choice. Integration with the EU must
be considered the main strategic goal. This can be achieved through
a gradual horizontal (sectoral) integration and through increasing
its role in the EU political decision-making process.

There are no insurmountable barriers on the road to integration,
and to make it achievable we must realize that political democracy,
supremacy of law and human rights are more than simply words.
Moreover, these concepts are not merely instruments in the hands of
European negotiators used for squeezing concessions out of Russia.
They are the building blocks of success in the contemporary

In the next 10 to 15 years Russia should give priority to
projects that will expedite the integration process and facilitate
the formation of communities of economic or social entities. This
is really the only way to eliminate the friend-or-foe division line
between the two powers. Infrastructure projects – in all spheres,
ranging from transportation and customs offices to
telecommunications and tourism – are critical means for reaching
that end. It is also important to encourage education exchange
programs between the states. The Road Maps of four common spaces
possess a real potential and should not remain mere

One of the priorities in Russia’s relations with the EU is the
lifting of travel visas. This would make it possible for nationals
from both parties to make short-term trips on either side without
special permits. The elimination of visa formalities for average
citizens would be the best way of forging a Russian-European
identity. The Europeans, however, tend to misrepresent the problem
which gives the impression that Russia is included in the Schengen
zone. In reality, however, we are referring to the transfer of all
travel checks from the consulates to the border-crossing stations
(up-to-date border control procedures are much more efficacious).
Many Europeans fear a possible inflow of cheap labor and criminals
from Russia, and yet the chances of coming to an agreement still
exist. Europe has an interest in readmission agreements and tighter
control over Russia’s southern and eastern borders. If the Russian
authorities improve the quality of its passport regime, and
initiate the eradication of corruption in the interior agencies,
visa-free travel will become more realistic. Incidentally, Ukraine
may become the trailblazer in visa-free travel as it is working to
conclude an agreement on travel regulations.

One short-term goal is to decide on the legal format of
integration and to start negotiations to that end. Russia and the
EU can build relations on the basis of a legally binding document
that would be organically linked to the Partnership and Cooperation
Agreement. This could take the form of a new agreement on Russia-EU
Strategic Partnership that has been proposed by some experts. Its
preamble, however, must acknowledge the intention of achieving an
integration relationship in the future. Later, Russia and the EU
could sign an agreement on association, or, as an alternative,
Russia could join the European Economic Area (EEA).

The Russians do not view the latter option as acceptable since
it does not provide the EEA countries with opportunities to draft
laws that they have to abide by; Switzerland and Norway are good
examples of such countries. Yet counter-arguments do exist. First,
the formula for participation in the EEA is individual, and Norway
did get some levers of influence when it joined. Depending on the
parameters, importance and potential of the Russian economy for
Europe at a particular moment, Russia can naturally hope to receive
more controls. Second, the EU may select precisely that formula of
integration and be ready to expand the field of compromise. Third,
the EEA itself may experience enlargement and evolution by that
time – if Ukraine joins it, for example – and consolidate its
positions with regard to Brussels.

The date of Russia’s membership in the EU is beyond the powers
of prediction at the present time. On the one hand, if Russia
attains a large degree of integration with the EU and gets access
to the decision-making process, then the need for seeking formal
membership will diminish. On the other hand, transition to
membership under those conditions will not require strenuous

Presently, Russia’s situation brings to mind the tale of the
knight from the famous Russian fairytale who is standing at a
crossroads and pondering which path to take. And just like the
inscription on the signpost in the story, analysts predict harsh
consequences for moving forward. Of course this is possible, yet
equally possible is the situation where Russia will receive
something in return for its efforts. The history of European
integration provides numerous instances of win-win situations,
without which that very integration would have failed. If a
traveler continues to stare at the inscription on the signpost
along the road, however, he will never succeed.