After the end of the USSR in 1991, Russia, at that time both weakened and isolated, was becoming a less popular area of investigation and studies compared with the period during the Cold War. However, since the year of 2004, Russia is “back” in the global political arena when Moscow rejected the European Neighboring Policy’s game with the European Union (the EU). Those who argued that Russia was already irrelevant in global politics since 2004 had to realize their error of judgment. Today, Russia is “back” as a military, economic, and political Great Power with tremendous energy resources.[i] Recovering Russia’s global power, in fact, started with a self-confidence policy by Moscow toward the EU and its bureaucratic apparatus in Brussels. Nevertheless, the EU is still one of the focal strategic partners to Russia and vice versa.
The EU’s eastern policy and Russia
The EU’s eastward enlargement in 2004 brought inside the EU eight states which had before 1991 been under the influence of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War or being the Soviet republics (the Baltic States). The planned future enlargement of the EU can increase even more this number further. These states are already ensuring that Brussels is more involved in the politics of its eastern flank bordering Russia than before, as, for instance, it was clearly demonstrated by the EU’s blatant intervention in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election and especially in 2014 political crisis in this country.
The Russian Federation and the EU are major partners in a number of key spheres, including economy, energy, internal and external aspects of security. In principle, there is a strategic partnership between the EU and Russia.[ii] In 2004, the relations of the EU with neighboring states were brought together under the European Neighboring Policy which formal goals were to share the potential benefits of the 2004 eastward enlargement with neighboring countries without offering formal perspective of the EU’s membership, and at such a way to prevent the emergence of stark dividing lines between the EU Member States and non-EU’s states, and to build security in the area surrounding the EU in the East by preventing significant influence of Russia in those countries. The project originally covered Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova. The European Neighborhood Policy was especially oriented toward Belarus – a country that is closely tied to the Russian Federation.[iii] However, it did not cover Russia, although it has been agreed between Brussels and Moscow that their mutual relations will be developed inconsistency with the project. In other words, the EU wanted to involve Russia since 2004 into the partnership of the European Neighborhood Policy[iv] but, however, Russia rejected this proposal as this policy was clearly seen as, in fact, anti-Russian and geopolitically pro-NATO/USA.[v] The EU, therefore, started to develop a strategic partnership with Russia that leads to cooperation in several important security fields like international terrorism, international crime, and the reduction and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In other words, through the European Neighborhood Policy, one set of policies and priorities is established for non-Member States constituting West Soviet successor states, along with states in the Mediterranean basin and North Africa. In parallel, Brussels continued to develop the EU’s relations with Russia founded on the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in 2004 and went into effect on December 1997.[vi] The agreement was further augmented by the Four Common Spaces and the associated Roadmaps.
Belarus is, in fact, a very ambiguous case in the EU-Russia relationships after the end of the Cold War, but especially since the 2004 EU’s enlargement. Belarus was initially identified by Brussels to be covered by the European Neighborhood Policy, but the country soon became not eligible for participation in this program because of the EU’s formal and politically-colored objections to human rights and alleged authoritarian political practices by Belarus’ President. As a result, economic sanctions and restrictions on the travel of Belarus political leaders to the EU have been introduced and the EU’s support was primarily directed to provoke a new colored revolution in Belarus under the propaganda of the promotion of civil society and liberal democracy. However, the EU’s announcement in 2009 of the inclusion of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership followed by Brussels’ lifting of economic sanctions evoked strong objections from Moscow as Russia is seeing Belarus as a part of its sphere of influence out of those by the NATO and the EU.
On one hand, the official government position in Minsk emphasizes the country’s policy of pursuing a good political and economic relationship with both the EU and Russia[vii]
Placing all the European non-EU’s Soviet successor states in one basket along with a group of non-European states, the European Neighborhood Policy had several features that made it difficult for Russia to accede to when it was initiated after the May 2004 enlargement of the EU as it was suggesting that the EU may have misunderstood Russia’s agenda in proposing its inclusion in the policy for, at least, three crucial reasons:
- The initiative was formulated unilaterally by Brussels and, therefore, Russia was an object of the policy rather than coauthor of a joint strategy to stabilize the EU’s newly formed eastern frontiers.
- The bilateral nature of the European Neighborhood Policy did not suggest a regional approach that Russia would help to share in the future.
- Russia was unsatisfied about being put in the same category as states clearly having lesser power and status in the region.
Concerning the EU’s eastern policy with regard to relations with Russia, an alternative approach can be the creation of a regional and multilateral framework for the sake of stabilization and development of non-EU’s East Europe to be drafted in consultation with Russia and other regional states. However, such an approach was not seriously taken into consideration by Brussels and it likely would have been unacceptable to the majority of new Member States on the front line of the EU-Russia border especially taking into consideration the Baltic States followed by Poland. Nevertheless, such proposal could be understood as making states like Moldova or Ukraine the objects of the joint EU-Russia machinations which are going in this case to be the dominant actors and it can be seen as sacrificing the sovereign rights of these and all other post-Soviet states to express their political destinies. However, once the European Neighborhood Policy had been announced by Brussels, it would have been difficult to retract or reframe it in the face of Russia’s rejection. In essence, both Russian and the EU’s positions looked reasonable and both are reflecting different understandings of their interests and national priorities. The result can be a policy toward perception of the so-called “Zero-Sum” game[viii] between the EU and Russia in the space of Russia’s near abroad.
There are four focal points of the EU’s eastern policy in relations with Russia since 2004:
- The possibility of future EU’s membership of Russia is not taken at all into consideration as neither the European Neighborhood Policy nor the strategic partnership policy with Russia foresees future EU’s membership. There is no EU Member State advocating the EU’s membership of Russia differently to the cases of Moldova and Ukraine.
- The European Neighborhood Policy directly includes the notion of conditionality, whereas the strategic partnership with Moscow sidesteps the issue. Russia clearly rejected the conditionality policy by Brussels as non-appropriate to one Great Power as Russia is. Nevertheless, Brussels did not abandon conditionality in its relations with Russia but, contrary, imposed since 2014 non-functional sanctions against Russia because of the Ukrainian crisis and the Crimean Question supporting the anti-Russian neo-Nazi-Fascist regime in Kyiv (like in Croatia in the 1990s).
- The European Neighborhood Policy on one hand explicitly posting joint ownership of the policy with the target countries, in fact, on other hand involves a clearly asymmetrical power relationship based on the fact that the EU defines the framework for partnerships and provides at the same time funding to the states within the program of the European Neighborhood Policy. However, the relations between Russia and the EU are based on an assumption of the equality of power that is very much reinforced by energy dependence on Russia by many of the EU’s countries. For Russia, to accept convergence on some matters can be possible under certain conditions while the terms of the partnership are a matter of negotiation.
- The European Neighborhood Policy explicitly seeks to “Europeanize” the Eastern Member States and other partner countries what practically means to impose on those countries West European values, norms, regulations and interests promoted by Brussels. However, in its relations with the EU, Moscow clearly is accentuating the focal significance of Russian national interest that is a position accepted by the overwhelming majority of Russia’s population.[ix]
The implications of Russia’s self-confidence in rejecting the European Neighborhood Policy in 2004 was long-lasting and profound and primarily founded on Moscow’s own preferences considering Russia’s national interest. One of the focal tasks of Russian policy toward the EU’s sponsored European Neighborhood Policy is an intention on preventing Berlin from its imperial tradition and tutoring Central and East European states from both political and economic viewpoints transforming this part of Europe into the new Mitteleuropa to be dominated by Berlin and new German (Fourth) Reich in the form of the EU.[x]
It is obvious that the EU’s strategic relationship with Russia cannot follow the practice of the European Neighborhood Policy at least for the fundamental reason because Moscow objected to those both principles and their practical implementation. Therefore, Brussels is forced to find out a new model of modus vivendi in its policy towards Russia, being unable to seek effective guidance from experience of dealing with other East European countries. That Russia is totally different case in comparison with all other cases clearly is telling the fact that Brussels has strategic partnership agreements with third countries (Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, USA or the Republic of South Africa) but none of them is similar to the relationship with Russia which is the only strategic partner which borders the EU’s Member States.
The EU-Russia tensions
The real political tensions between the EU and Russia emerged at the time of the Georgian conflict in August 2008 as the EU as the US’ client organization followed anti-Russian policy and discourse dictated by Washington. The tensions became deeper with the Russian-Ukraine gas disputes in December 2008 and January 2009. In both cases, the EU has played an extremely important role in fueling the tensions between these states what finally opened the eyes of Moscow about the real nature of the EU in international relations.[xi] This Russia’s sense of non-confidence in the EU became stronger for the reason that Brussels openly fueled growing concern of several Central and East European states about the renewed self-confidence of Russia. Poland, the Czech Republic, and Romania took part in the American sponsored and funded missile shield, which officially is designed to protect this part of Europe against potential nuclear strikes by North Korea and Iran but, in fact, the program is directed against Russia which became very furious of the US’ policy in deploying interception missiles close to the border with Russia as they can reach Russian territory easily.
Another issue of tensions between Western creations of the EU and NATO is NATO’s membership of Central and Southeast European countries or NATO’s eastward enlargement. Respective support of Washington to the intensions of Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO has created an additional set of tensions with Russia and, therefore, the Partnership for Peace arrangement as a forum to integrate Russia in the European security and cooperation framework failed. The EU exposed its concern about Kaliningrad region of Russia which became for a while a matter of controversy in Russia-EU relations but undoubtedly deteriorated them.[xii] Nevertheless, the culmination of the deterioration of the bilateral relations between the EU and Russia arrived in 2014 with Brussels open support of political overthrowing of the legal President from the street by the mob of protesters in the country which is “the cradle of Russian orthodox faith and civilization”, as Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly noticed in his public speech delivered on March 18th, 2014[xiii] after Crimea was returned back to its homeland from Ukraine.
Up today, the gas issue is the most sensitive economic segment of the strategic partnership between the EU and Russia. The EU was deepening its links with Russia in terms of energy supply – a policy that already created certain dependency of the EU on oil and as from Russia. As Russia addressed its own issues of economic and social reforms followed by foreign policy problems, it may seek to develop its relationship with the EU as a potential alternative to the USA in the future. Russian policy on the Kyoto Protocol and on Iranian nuclear energy and weapons technology indicated the real possibilities going in this direction. When Russia cut off gas supplies in January 2009 due to Ukraine’s policy of gas-banditry, many countries in Central Europe and West Balkans were not able to get any gas in below-freezing temperatures. The EU was keen at that time to emphasize the importance of being a reliable partner and fulfilling contractual obligations as the gas dispute between Ukraine and Russia was solved by the EU’s sponsored the Gas Coordination Group that was formed in 2006 to deal with such problems. As a result, the Gas Coordination Group will monitor the transfer of gas from Russia to Europe via Ukraine.[xiv] Relations between the EU and Russia are going to be important for Brussels in terms of internal, near abroad (eastern), and global politics. However, the crucial question in this matter is: Will relations with the USA and/or Russia oblige the EU to deepen its foreign and security policy capacities?[xv]
Ethnic Russian minority question
The position of the ethnic Russian minority in the three EU’s Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania is another problematic issue on the relations between Brussels and Moscow. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of the populations of Central, East and South East Europe are continuing the policy of assimilation of their ethnocultural minorities but in their struggle to become the EU’s Member States these countries were and are obliged to realize a required set of criteria related to the human rights and minority protection.[xvi] However, the biggest number of problems are still in the Baltic States, especially in Estonia and Latvia, which has the large Russian minorities and, therefore, there are periodic tensions with Russia about the Russian-speaking populations with those countries. In Latvia and Estonia in particular, the crucial problem was the sensitive issue of the official citizenship policy which is by many foreign researchers and the NGO’s observers considered as non-democratic. In the case of all three Baltic States, most parties in the coalition are right of center and are defined against the Russian minority and Russia in general (in the case of Lithuania in addition to the Polish minority as well). On the left side of political arena in the Baltic States, here are several political parties or movements which are representing the Russian speakers, but, however, they are by different technics put on the margins of political system or, in other words, they are out from mainstream politics.[xvii] As a crux of the matter, the EU is, in fact, protecting such minority policy that is more complicating its relations with Russia.
The exclusion of the Russian speakers who did not learn either Estonian or Latvian led to significant social and political tensions in these two Baltic countries.[xviii] Nevertheless, Lithuania adopted different citizenship policy only for the reason that the Russian minority in the country is not so numerous (6,3%).[xix] Such tensions are for almost thirty years continuing to determine the political situation in both countries and relations with neighboring Russian Federation. A more tolerant approach was chosen by Lithuania, but in spite of that, tension with Russia has continued to shape the bilateral relations, particularly in relation to extremely high Russophobic rhetoric by Lithuanian officials. Nevertheless, Lithuanian Constitution is, in fact, blocking possibility that non-ethnic Lithuanians can be elected for the post of the President (Article 78).[xx] In Latvia and Estonia the party systems are right-center, with most left-wing parties being under the domination by the large Russian-speaking groups (25% in each). Generally, it exists a sharp cleavage line between left and right political parties and movements, which coincides with ethnic division between the Russian speakers and the Latvian and Estonian populations on the opposite sides. Most Estonian and Latvian political parties support very tough language policy by their Governments towards the Russians who do not speak the official (state’s) languages (or languages in public use).[xxi]
To be continued
Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
[i] Eric Shiraev, Russian Government and Politics: Comparative Government and Politics, , 23.
[ii] José M. Magone, Contemporary European Politics: A Comparative Introduction, London‒New York: Routledge, 2011, 578‒579.
[iii] Michelle Cini, European Union Politics, Oxford, UK‒New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007, 438.
[iv] Ian Bache, Stephen George, Politics in the European Union, Oxford‒New York, Oxford University Press, 2006, 500‒501. See more in [Ainius Lašas, European Union and NATO Expansion: Central and Eastern Europe, New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010].
[v] See more in [Michael E. Smith, Europe’s Foreign and Security Policy: The Institutionalization of Cooperation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004].
[vi] Roger E. Kanet (ed.), Russian Foreign Policy in the 21st Century, New York, USA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 246.
[vii] Comment by Sergei Martynev, the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus in Iurii Shpakov, “Vozmozhnost otoiti ot Rossii”, Vremia novostei, No. 25, 2009-02-13.
[viii] “Zero-Sum” game is a situation of pure conflict in which the gain of one political actor is equal to the loss of another [Richard W. Mansbach, Kirsten L. Taylor, Introduction to Global Politics, London, UK−New York, USA: Routledge, 2012, 586].
[ix] Joan DeBardeleben (ed.), The Boundaries of EU Enlargement: Finding a Place for Neighbours, Houndmills−Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 70−91.
[x] About the German imperial concept of Mitteleuropa, see in [Peter J. Katzenstein (ed.), Mitteleuropa Between Europe and Germany, Providence, USA−Oxford, UK: Berghahn Books, 1997]. On history of Central and East Europe, see in [Robert Bideleux, Ian Jeffries, A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change, London−New York: Routledge, Andrew C. Janos, East Central Europe in the Modern World: The Politics of the Borderlands from Pre- to PostCommunism, Stanford, California, USA: Stanford University Press, 2000].
[xi] On the EU in the international relations, see in [C. Piening, Global Europe: The European Union and World Affairs, Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1997; Christopher Hill, The International relations of the European Union, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005; Steve Marsh, Hans Mackenstein, The International relations of the European Union, Harlow: Pearson-Longman, 2005; Charlotte Bretherton, John Vogler, The European Union as a Global Actor, London: Routledge, 2005; Knud Erik Jørgensen, Mark A. Pollack, Ben Rosamond (eds.), Handbook of European Union Politics, London‒Thousand Oaks‒New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 2007, 505‒576].
[xii] Michelle Cini, European Union Politics, Oxford, UK‒New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007, 450.
[xiii] Bogdan J. Góralczyk (ed.), European Union on the Global Scene: United or Irrelevant?, Warsaw: Centre for Europe, University of Warsaw, 2015, 245.
[xiv] European Commission, IP 09/24, 2009-01-09.
[xv] Michelle Cini, European Union Politics, Oxford, UK‒New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007, 450.
[xvi] See more in [Yvonne Goldammer (ed.), The Long Road of Smaller Countries into the Enlarged European Union, Vilnius: Eugrimas, 2006; Peter Van Elsuwege, From Soviet Republics to EU Member States: A Legal and Political Assessment of the Baltic States’ Accession to the EU, I‒II, Leiden‒Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008].
[xvii] José M. Magone, Contemporary European Politics: A Comparative Introduction, London‒New York: Routledge, 2011, 197, 468.
[xviii] About the question of the Russian-speaking population in Estonia, see [Jean-Jacques Subrenat (ed.), Estonia: Identity and Independence, Amsterdam‒New York, NY: Rodopi, 2004, 269‒280].
[xix] Giedrė Jankevičiūtė, Lithuania. Guide, Vilnius: R. Paknio leidykla, 2016.
[xx] The Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania: https://www.lrkt.lt/en/about-the-court/legal-information/the-constitution/192
[xxi] See more in [Marko Lehti, David J. Smith (eds.), Post-Cold War Identity Politics: Northern and Baltic Experiences, London‒Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 2003].