Reciprocal respect could calm the troubled waters of EU-RUSSIA relations
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
Tel.: (+7) 495 980 7353
Address: Office 112, 29 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 115184, Russia

Relations between Russia and the European Union are still
described officially as a «strategic partnership» with a shared
goal of «integration». In practice, however, neither side makes any
attempt to hide their irritation at the other. The illusion that
Moscow would follow the European model of development began to fade
back in the days of Boris Yeltsin. Under President Vladimir Putin,
it has become clear that Russia is, in fact, heading in a very
different direction.

From Moscow’s point of view, the European model is based on
self-righteousness. These feelings stem in part from the EU’s
genuinely outstanding achievements in the field of European
integration, but they also reflect a typically Old World sense of
moral and cultural superiority. For the EU, «normal» political and
diplomatic relations are only possible when Europe’s righteousness
is acknowledged by the other side. However, the EU’s complacent
self-image is far from justified. Although an economic giant, it
remains a political midget. The formation of a pan-European
identity is proceeding only with great difficulty and − far
from becoming a United Europe − national sovereignty may even
be experiencing a renaissance. Certainly, national agendas
currently dominate any higher pan-European programme.

The growth of these internal difficulties in Europe has
coincided with Russia’s rapid return to the status of a great
power. Russia’s inability to break with its past, or its
non-western national psychology, had been evident for many years.
However, it was the opportunities presented by the oil boom which
really put flesh onto the bones of the Kremlin’s ambitions.
Moscow’s cautious faith in its own abilities quickly gave way to
over-confidence and euphoria as power and wealth flowed in from the
global market in hydrocarbons. The new Russia won’t make
concessions − which confuses the Europeans. On one hand, the
culture of compromise is deeply rooted in the EU’s internal
relations; on the other, the Union is unwilling to compromise with
external partners. When neither side will back off, you soon create

Interestingly, not long ago – from about mid-2005 to the autumn
of 2006 − Russia and the EU experimented with the idea of
putting aside questions about their conflicting values and starting
to look instead at issues of mutual self-interest. It was obvious
that their economies were complementary and interdependent, so this
seemed a good starting point. Russia proposed a new definition of
the word «integration», which had previously been taken to mean the
harmonisation of economic, political and legal practices. Russia
suggested this interpretation should be replaced by the concept of
«asset swaps». Gazprom would purchase energy distribution networks
in Europe, while European companies would gain access to Russian
hydrocarbon deposits. But Russia and the EU speak different
languages and «integration» means different things; the two sides
were unable to agree on any mutual interest and the experiment
proved short-lived.

The next time that Russia and the EU try to get a dialogue
going, the principle of «reciprocity» is going to become crucial.
This will be a departure from the old style of relations when, in
simple terms, both parties launched sweeping yet ill-thought-out
attacks on the other in an effort to make their point. For example,
for many years Brussels attempted to «tie» Russia into EU
legislation, reflecting its usual tactic of expansion into eastern
Europe. This met growing resistance from Moscow, which retaliated
by closing the doors to investment from abroad, including the EU.
As Russia grew richer and stronger, Moscow decided that it could
simply buy whatever it needed in the Old World and thus «tie» the
EU to Russia. In response, the EU rushed to protect its strategic
industries from Russia’s grasp.

Adopting the principle of «reciprocity» would, therefore, offer
the chance for both sides to start building relations afresh on the
basis of a more constructive and even-handed approach. There may
even be a chance to open a new period of «reciprocal» relations
soon − once the Union has consolidated its institutional
re-organization under the new Reform Treaty and Russia has resolved
the issue of a new power structure. However, both Russia and the
European Union will first have to accept that neither of them will
be able to influence the world by themselves in future. A mutual
recognition of this fact could transform their troubled

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