Russia’s European Strategy: A New Start
No. 3 2005 July/September

© «Russia
in Global Affairs». № 3, July — September 2005


article is an account of a workshop held in January 2005 and
entitled Russia-EU Relations: The Contemporary Situation and
Prospects for the Future. The workshop, headed by Sergei Karaganov,
involved Russian experts in Russia-EU relations and representatives
of Russian ministries, government agencies and major companies. The
workshop was organized by the Institute of Europe of the Russian
Academy of Sciences, the Editorial Board of Russia in Global
Affairs, the Aeroflot Joint Stock Company, the Council on Foreign
and Defense Policy, and the Institute of Strategic Studies and


Russia’s many international allies, relations with the European
Union hold a unique place. The EU is Russia’s largest trading
partner, while the EU member states account for an essential part
of all humanitarian and people-to-people contacts of Russian
citizens abroad. Yet, despite an extensive program of cooperation
aimed at bringing Russia closer to Europe’s regulatory standards
and rules, the two parties have fundamental differences in the
political sphere which continue to increase, as does the economic
rivalry between them. The elite of Russia and the European Union
barely understand each other, and this lack of mutual comprehension
is only increasing. Does Russia’s EU policy have a well-formulated
goal? How will Russia-EU relations develop in the future? And what
cooperation model is the most advantageous to them? This workshop
tried to find answers to these questions.




the long and active dialog between Russia and the European Union,
which includes a well-developed system of bilateral ties at various
levels and a solid legal base, relations between Russia and the EU
remain in a state of uncertainty. The parties lack a shared
understanding of the phrase “strategic partnership,” although this
has been used to officially summarize the nature of their
relations. Both Russia and the EU are becoming disillusioned with
each other, and this feeling often gives way to irritation. This
has resulted in the fact that the agenda of bilateral summits,
together with the meaningful content of their drafted agreements,
have been coming up short. Both parties lack a strategic
understanding of how their mutual relations should


At the
same time, the European Union is becoming increasingly aggressive
toward Russia. Most importantly, this refers to the situation in
the post-Soviet space and to competition for markets and economic
channels of the future. The personal relationships forged between
the Russian president and the leaders of the EU’s major countries
in 2000-2002, are beginning to lose their effectiveness. As the
Western leaders must reckon with the influence of public opinion in
their own countries, an increasing number are beginning to question
the efficiency of the Kremlin’s domestic policy. Another factor
concerning the change in the European Union’s policy line toward
Moscow involves the EU’s new member states which joined the Union
in the spring of 2004. These countries have taken a tough stance
toward Russia and seek a major role in mapping out the EU’s Russia


Today, the
EU accounts for 48.6 percent of Russia’s foreign trade. Russia’s
exports to the EU include mostly fossil-fuel energy supplies and
primary processed goods. This structure of exports reflects the
level of the real competitive ability of Russian products. Oil and
gas exports presently serve as a kind of “airbag” that guarantees
against unpredictable complications in political relations. Yet
this is obviously not enough to further develop mutual ties. Russia
requires not a lesser EU role in its foreign trade but a
diversification of its exports and the development of trade with
other actors, specifically by exporting its traditional raw goods
to other regions as well.


the EU countries themselves do not display any special interest in
a broader range of imports from Russia. Indeed, they seem to view
this country rather as a source of energy resources. (Russia
accounts for 7.6 percent of the EU’s aggregate imports and 4.4
percent of the EU’s aggregate exports.) Concurrently, the European
Union is searching for new resource suppliers in order to secure
itself against possible cataclysms in Russia, as well as to deny
Moscow even a theoretical possibility of using its energy supplies
as an instrument of political pressure.


Russia can
increase its competitiveness by developing a transcontinental
transport infrastructure which would offer the most convenient and
safest route between Europe and Asia. In this respect, Russia must
revise its approach to transit issues, which now links the state of
this infrastructure primarily to the issue of national security.
The construction of new railroads, air navigation and air traffic
control systems and the modernization of existing ones, together
with the construction of modern transit airports (which include
payments for non-stop flights along the trans-Siberian route) have
been important steps in this direction.


European Union understands the importance of Russia’s transport
potential and seeks to increase its presence on Russian transit
routes; this would include, primarily, flight routes. To this end,
the Commission of the European Communities (CEC) insists that
European airlines be exempted from compensatory payments for
flights through the trans-Siberian corridor, and suggests that
Russia adopt an “open sky” policy. If Brussels persuades Russia to
implement such steps, this would represent a major precedent.
Essentially, it would permit the EU countries to increase their
supplies across Russia, thus effectively sidelining Russian
airlines without compensating their financial losses.


integration into the global economy could also be promoted by
railroad supplies between Europe and Asia; this potential, however,
has not been sufficiently tapped.


experts disagreed on their assessment of the terms on which Russia
and the EU signed a protocol on Russia’s accession to the World
Trade Organization. It was unanimously agreed, however, that the
very fact of the protocol’s signing was a positive gesture as it
has removed one source of mutual irritation – disagreements over
the terms for Russia’s accession to the WTO. However, the
concessions that Moscow has had to make under EU pressure may
inflict great damage on the Russian economy as a whole, as well as
on its individual corporations, such as Aeroflot, Gazprom, and
Russian Railroads. It also remains unclear what the balance of
benefits and losses will be for Russia now that it has ratified the
Kyoto Protocol.


the need to sign the WTO protocol forced Russia to make concessions
to the EU which occasionally linked one issue to another, including
the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol with the WTO accession
issue. Now that this sword of Damocles has been removed, Russian
negotiators have gained more freedom of action. An overwhelming
majority of the participants present at the workshop agreed that
maintaining the status quo in Russian-European relations,
preserving the present model of cooperation, and trying to overcome
the latent crisis by letting things run their natural course would
be unacceptable. The experts emphasized that Russia must clearly
formulate a strategic goal for creating a concrete model of
interaction with Europe. But if Russia tries building its relations
with the EU without having such a goal in mind, it will have to
make ever new unilateral concessions.
This will create a
situation in which Russia’s role will be reduced to merely reacting
to the EU’s initiatives.




The legal base of Russia-EU relations
has become outdated; moreover, it has been inadequate from the very
beginning. The parties fail to completely fulfill the terms of
their Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), concluded in
1994, and most of its key elements will no longer have any
relevance after Russia joins the WTO. Furthermore, neither Russia
nor the EU is preparing an adequate substitute for the PCA, which
expires in 2007. Instead – partly due to administrative inertia,
partly due to the fear that a pause in the dialog would increase
the atmosphere of negativity – the parties are continuing to work
out new mechanisms of cooperation within the framework of the
Russia-EU project known as “four common spaces.”


The experts agreed, however, that this
concept cannot serve as a replacement for the PCA. From a legal
point of view, the concept of “four common spaces” is beyond the
juridical conceptual vocabulary. From the point of view of
political relations, the content of Russia’s and the European
Union’s joint “road maps” actually puts Russia on an equal level
with other EU neighbors. The implementation of the “four spaces”
concept will not help the parties to overcome the present crisis in
their relations but will only create an outward impression of
progress, which later will inevitably bring about a new wave of


By making Russia pressed for time, the
CEC will, most likely, try to fix Moscow’s unilateral concessions
through formal agreements. The weakness of Russia’s negotiating
positions is largely due to the lack of coordination among
different government agencies and to the inadequate involvement of
businesspeople in the negotiating process. This factor enables the
EU to impose its own agenda and initiatives on Moscow and push
through decisions that are often aimed at receiving unilateral
advantages by the EU.


An absolute majority of the experts who
participated in the discussion argued that Russia should refrain
from signing any binding agreements with the European Union for the
next two to three years. If, however, Russia does decide to sign
documents with the EU, these should be limited to “agreements on
strategic intent.” The experts believe the work on the “common
spaces” should be re-oriented to the preparation of a new “major”
treaty between Russia and the EU, which must replace the PCA, and
specific agreements on individual areas of interaction.


Russia should draw up and propose its
own document drafts; otherwise it will be forced, yet again, to be
bound by CEC-proposed drafts. Furthermore, it must find an internal
working mechanism for preparing a Russian proposal for a new
fundamental treaty with the European Union for the period after


The experts emphasized that the content
and nature of a new treaty must be determined not by the need for
“rapprochement” (which can simply be a consequence of
administrative inertia), but by Russia’s final objective in its
relations with the EU. Since the drafting of the treaty must be
preceded by a definition of Russia’s intended goal, and not vice
versa, it is the final goal that will determine the nature of the
new treaty – whether it will be, for example, a treaty of
association or, conversely, a less significant agreement that will
not provide for any serious integration.




The participants of the workshop
unanimously agreed that the main problem of Russia’s EU policy is
the absence of a strategic vision concerning Russia’s place in the
pan-European context. The experts argue there are only two possible
models: 1) Russia’s strategic goal with regard to the EU is gradual
integration, which may culminate in its accession to a new European
Union; 2) cooperation between the two friendly yet independent
centers of power will not strive for formal integration, including
the harmonization of their respective legislation.


Presently, the only clearly formulated
point concerning Russia’s policy toward the European Union is its
assertion that “Russia does not seek EU membership.”
Representatives of both the EU and Russia emphasize the “special
Russian mentality,” as well as Russia’s huge size and relative
economic backwardness when speaking about the hypothetical
impossibility of Russia integrating itself into the European Union.
At the same time, several participants argued there are candidates
for EU accession that are less economically developed than Russia,
or have a mentality that differs significantly from the “Central
European mentality” (for example, Turkey). When speaking about the
size of Russia as an argument against EU integration, this seems to
lack real validity in our modern era of communication; moreover, it
may be balanced by Russia’s rich natural resources.


More than two-thirds of the experts
agreed that in the long term (after 15 to 20 years) the issue of
Russia’s accession to the European Union could be raised. In this
time, much will depend on what path the EU and Russia take. The EU
may transform into a quasi-federation with strong supranational
governing bodies, or a socio-economic union, whose members may
share some aspects of their foreign and defense policies. Russia
may become an idle and weak authoritarian state or a developed
democratic country. Russia’s integration with a quasi-federative
state is much less probable than its integration with a union of a
more or less free configuration.


Russia is prompted to make the “European
choice” by several objective factors.


First, Russia’s acute
demographic crisis, together with its increasing lag behind the
advanced countries in terms of technological progress, will
inevitably reduce its role as an independent global center of
power. In the future, not only will Russia find it difficult to
successfully develop on its own, but even simple survival will be a


Second, among Russia’s
foreign-policy partners and neighbors, the European Union is the
most predictable, civilized and attractive. The regions to the
south of Russia are growing increasingly unstable, yet a close
union with China is hardly possible. The EU’s zone of attraction
covers most, if not all, of the former Soviet republics west and
south-west of Russia. As for Russia itself, its cultural traditions
undoubtedly make it part of Europe.


Third, from an economic
perspective Russia is greatly dependent on the European

Therefore, according to some of the
experts, Russia’s most rational, pragmatic and successful decision
would be to end its unrealistic claims of being an absolutely
independent “pole” and assume a steady rapprochement with the
European Union. Several of the participants said Moscow must enter
into negotiations with Brussels in order to replace the PCA with a
more advanced agreement – a Treaty of Association.


However, a majority of the experts who
share the view that the most advantageous policy for Russia would
be to nurture its relations with the EU, believe that it would be
too early to begin drafting a Treaty of Association at this time
because Russia-EU relations have been hit by a crisis of confidence
and systemic differences.


The transition to more advanced
relations was proposed to be accomplished in two stages. First, the
parties should work to “cool down” their relations a bit. This
would guard them against excessive expectations and, therefore,
disappointments. Furthermore, it is necessary to revise the entire
sphere of EU-Russian relations in order to bring the formal
framework of their cooperation into line with the political and
economic realities. Perhaps it would make sense to give up the idea
of the “four common spaces,” or to partially adopt it in a general
and non-binding way.


In any case, any reference to
integration must be temporarily removed from Russia-EU relations,
in particular those references that demand the extension of EU
legislation to Russian soil. Russia’s priority must be its
adaptation to international, as opposed to European, legislation.
Once Russia’s legal norms are brought into line with international
standards, it will be able to raise its relations with the EU to a
higher integration level.


Russia and the EU must draft a new
treaty that would provide for close economic and political
relations between two mutually independent economic and political
actors of the world stage. The new political and legislative basis
for this mutual relationship (to replace the PCA which expires in
2007) must start to be built now.


Finally, relations with the European
Union, which now dominate Russia’s foreign policy agenda, must be
temporarily given a less significant place in the hierarchy of
Russia’s foreign-policy priorities. This will help Russia and the
European Union to achieve a higher level of integration in the
future, as they will proceed not from the present negative state of
affairs in their mutual relations but from a relatively clean


Some of the workshop participants
insisted that lessening the significance of Russia-EU relations,
together with the removal of integration references, must mark a
final, rather than intermediary, chapter of these relations. These
experts argued that full-scale EU membership (even if it evolves
toward a “common market plus” model) would damage the long-term
interests of Russia as a nation of global significance. They noted
that Russia and the EU are rivals in some areas of global politics,
such as the future of the post-Soviet space, and relations with the
United States. Finally, Russia’s mentality and political culture
prevent it from accepting the idea of being “one of numerous
leaders” inside the European Union.


However, the experts expressing this
point of view were in the minority; the majority of the experts
believe that in the medium term and, particularly, in the long
term, Russia will not be able to handle the task of becoming an
independent center of power in the global system, while siding with
other centers of power (for example, China) would be either
unrealistic or simply dangerous.




Before Russia can successfully integrate
into the European Union it will have to adopt a model of economic
and social development, not to mention democracy, which would be
similar with that of the EU, or at least compatible with it. But
given the conditions of the present situation, when the elites of
Russia and the European Union have different values and views,
attempts to borrow individual elements of integration can only
serve to aggravate the negative atmosphere.


Of the various models of relations which
the EU builds with its external partners, the least advantageous
for Russia would be “integration without membership.” Such a model
would provide for the harmonization of Russian and EU legislation,
but would deny Russia the right to participate in the drafting
process of EU legislation.


The participants in the workshop
recommended studying thoroughly all existing models and borrowing
only those that would meet Russia’s interests. The same relates to
EU legislation – only its advantageous elements can be transferred
onto Russian soil, including those that are advantageous for the
development of relations with the EU. Some of the experts believe,
however, that a selective adoption of individual elements of EU
legislation by the EU’s partners is unlikely because of the
specific nature of the European Union.


When building a “Russian model,” Moscow
must not only be guided by what is advantageous to it, but also
take into account objective limitations on the part of the European
Union. These limitations are due to the following features of
European integration:

European Union is characterized by a constant tendency to enforce
its own legislation and standards on third countries as a condition
for cooperation;

integrationist nature of the EU does not allow it to depart from
the set of common standards and rules for fear of its own

internal agenda of the European Union is connected with the need to
adapt its new member countries.


Russia can soften the effect of these
limiting factors if it adapts to international legislation and
standards in the economic, judicial and other spheres.




Russia’s administrative machinery is not
prepared for the tasks set down by its EU policy. The structures
that are responsible for interaction with the European Union are
organizationally disunited, and the number of qualified personnel
is insufficient to carry out real productive work with the powerful
bureaucratic machinery of Brussels.


Individual Russian agencies specialize
in their areas of cooperation with the EU and interact with their
counterparts in CEC subdivisions and other EU bodies; however, they
fail to coordinate their efforts between themselves. In contrast,
the individual agencies and departments of the European Union are
highly coordinated.


The number of people in Russia’s
policy-forming class and bureaucratic apparatus who are well
informed about the inner workings of the EU is very small
(estimated in tens), and over the past few years their numbers have
not increased. Any growth in the number of qualified personnel in
the state organizations is immediately offset by their peers
leaving for the world of business.


Russia often lacks the people and time
to prepare its own drafts for joint documents, thus, the CEC
officials take this process under their control. The representation
of Russian business interests in Brussels is extremely weak or
practically non-existent, and only a few Russian companies have
lobbyists and legal staff there. The increase in the number of
Russia’s permanent representation to the European Union has been a
positive move, yet the lobbying potential remains largely


In the unanimous opinion of the workshop
participants, Russia’s official bodies engaged in routine
interaction with the EU need to seriously improve their work. This
can be done by increasing their personnel and funds, improving the
personnel’s professional skills, implementing structural changes,
and better coordinating Russia’s EU policy. Several experts
proposed consolidating negotiation resources in one of the existing
agencies or – in the long term – within the framework of a special
agency on EU affairs.


This move would help remove many of the
problems aggravated by the need to coordinate Russia’s negotiating
position. Also, it would deny the CEC the possibility to push
through its decisions due to the lack of coordination among various
Russian agencies.


The experts proposed Russia’s Foreign
Ministry to be a coordinating agency for the transition period;
this ministry, with its highly skilled negotiators, boasts rich
experience in conducting multilateral negotiations. At the same
time, there must be a role for other Russian ministries that are
now engaged in dialog with the EU. Their representatives must be
involved in the coordination of positions within the frameworks of
interdepartmental committees and in ad hoc working groups. The
establishment of such groups was mentioned as a possible
intermediate form of interaction. The experts spoke highly of the
U.S. experience in this field, which implies strict subordination
of such a group to a higher governmental official with a sufficient
scope of powers. The experts expressed doubts, however, that this
system would work in Russia, given the present quality of the work
and administrative culture of the state apparatus.

Russia must give priority to the
establishment of a special agency that would coordinate efforts to
implement and advance a single Russian position on all aspects of
relations with the European Union. This agency should actively pool
the expertise of the Russian expert community. In particular, the
experts advanced the idea of creating a broad public consultative
council on Russia-EU relations, which would assess their current
relationship and introduce new initiatives for furthering
rapprochement with the European Union. Taking into account the
increasing role of the European Parliament, it is important for
Russia to strengthen ties at the level of inter-parliamentary
structures, public organizations and business associations. It is
time for Russia to have permanent representation in the European
Parliament in order to further its interests there. The experts
also proposed establishing committees (subcommittees) on Russia-EU
relations at Russia’s Federal Assembly.


Considering that Russia’s development
greatly depends on its relations with the EU, the acute shortage of
specialists threatens the key interests of the country. The
participants spoke in favor of introducing special bonuses to
encourage such specialists to work for state bodies.




Presently, there are no mechanisms for
protecting the interests of Russian private businesses at the level
of Russia-EU relations. Russian businesses, with rare exception,
are not ready to make serious investments in the creation of a
lobbying infrastructure. Furthermore, the extremely complicated
relationship between business and government in Russia is not
conducive to protecting the interests of Russian entrepreneurs
abroad. This is a major reason why the negotiating process remains
non-transparent for the business community and why its interests
are not duly taken into consideration by the Russian authorities.
Another problem is that Russia consults the business community only
at the early stage of its negotiating process with Brussels. In
order to solve political problems, Russian officials sacrifice the
material interests of businesses – even the largest corporations.
The CEC, however, acts exactly in the opposite way – it
meticulously bargains even on minor issues in the interests of
European economic actors.


The participants in the workshop
unanimously favored to strengthen the participation of Russia’s
business circles in implementing practical moves with regard to the
European Union and in protecting Russia’s economic interests in
Brussels. Mechanisms for such a proposal must be created on the
basis of coordination and mutual support of private and state
structures. This can be achieved through the following moves:


active interaction between the business community and official
Russian bodies at the European Union

active involvement of EU legal structures by Russian businesses,
and the creation of their own infrastructure for influencing the
decision-making process in the European Union;

use of the Russian expert community in this field and its
consolidation by Russian business and state organizations. To this
end, the workshop participants proposed that Russian businesses
invest in efforts to improve the quality of knowledge about the
European Union in Russia. The Russian business community must
increase its efforts for developing representation with a powerful
analytical and legal potential in Brussels.




The participants in the workshop
unanimously agreed that Russia must urgently adopt a state program
for studying the European Union and training experts in EU affairs.
Emphasis in these efforts must be made not on purely theoretical
studies (as is done in academic institutes or institutions of
higher education specializing in the history of the European Union
and its institutions), but on the study of all practical EU
mechanisms – most importantly, the practice of applying European
law. Applied knowledge of this kind will help Russian
representatives to defend and promote their interests and positions
in a competent and qualified way.


The experts supported the idea for the
establishment of a European College at the Moscow State Institute
of International Relations, but agreed that this proposal is
insufficient for achieving the above goals. Another possibility is
the mass education of Russian students and young specialists at
European colleges and universities, as well as the establishment of
specialized courses in Russia, involving Russian professors. The
program of training young specialists in EU affairs could become
the subject of a special agreement with the European Union. Russia
and the EU might jointly allocate funds for this purpose.


The training of Russian specialists at
educational institutions and government agencies of the European
Union would provide them with unique knowledge and experience. It
would provide them an opportunity to understand how it feels to be
in the shoes of a European bureaucrat, while enabling them to
establish personal contacts with officials of the CEC and other
European bodies.