Accessibility links

Breaking News

Analysis: Russia And The EU -- A Problematic Future

By Victor Yasmann

(Click here to see RFE/RL's "EU Expands Eastward" webpage.)

The 1 May expansion of the EU to include 10 new members -- eight of which are either former Soviet republics or former Soviet satellite states -- opens a new era in Russia's relations with the rest of greater Europe. Naturally, Russians do not share the Euro-enthusiasm of the Central and Eastern Europeans, both those who have already become citizens of a united Europe and those that aspire to do so.

This represents something of a shift in Russian attitudes. Back in the 1990s, when Russia first signed its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the EU, the general implication was that Russia would slowly but steadily move toward greater integration with Europe. Now, both the public and the Russian political elite seem to have changed their minds about Europe. A national ROMIR-Monitoring poll of 1,600 Russians conducted last month found that 43 percent of respondents said they do not care about EU expansion, even about the fact that the Baltic states were scheduled to become EU members, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 April. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they viewed EU expansion negatively, while 24 percent viewed it positively. By comparison, about 60 percent of those surveyed had a negative view of NATO expansion.

The Russian political elite has even more definite views about the EU, clearly feeling that eventual Russian membership of the organization is neither possible nor desirable. "The consensus is that the present political course of [President] Vladimir Putin, which is supported by a majority of the population, excludes the possibility of integration into the EU, because Russia is not prepared to sacrifice part of its sovereignty, adopt European legislation, or make human rights a priority," "Russia In Global Policy" Editor in Chief Fedor Lukyanov told "Izvestiya" on 27 April.

Both Moscow and Brussels feel that the model of relations between Russia and the EU that emerged a decade ago must be re-envisioned.
Both Moscow and Brussels feel that the model of relations between Russia and the EU that emerged a decade ago must be re-envisioned. "Now it is obvious that the two sides represent two different political and economic systems, and the vector of Russia's development is not the one that was expected at the dawn of Russian democracy," Lukyanov said.

Lukyanov outlines at least two areas of potential conflict that could emerge as a result of EU enlargement. First, Lukyanov noted that the EU takes seriously concepts such as the rule of law, human rights, and social justice and, therefore, it cannot help but react negatively to some antidemocratic developments in Russia's emerging "authoritarian modernization." Even if EU officials were willing to turn a blind eye to such things as Chechnya and various espionage and oligarch trials, European public opinion and legislatures would not allow them to do so for long. The EU membership of the Baltic states and the former Soviet satellites -- which are still particularly sensitive to Russia's behavior -- would only make it more difficult for the organization to ignore such issues.

The second area of potential conflict, according to Lukyanov, is the increased interest of the enlarged EU in such countries as Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, which the EU has begun calling its "new neighbors." Moscow has more or less openly stated its intention of restoring its dominance of the territory of the former Soviet Union, excluding the Baltic states. One such conflict already emerged last November, when Russia unilaterally proposed a settlement of the Transdniester conflict in Moldova, to which the EU objected. Further conflicts seem inevitable as Russia turns its attention to Ukraine's November presidential election (see and as the Kremlin proceeds with the implementation of the Single Economic Space.

Lukyanov also emphasized that the problems associated with the EU's absorption of the new members and other issues will prevent the organization from concentrating on its relations with Russia. Moreover, as Moscow Center for Political Studies analyst Dmitrii Yevstafev noted, Moscow and the EU do not have any shared experience resolving serious conflicts, such as Russia and the United States developed over the decades of the Cold War and during the post-Soviet period, "Ekspert," No. 17, reported. Moscow and Washington, he argued, managed to develop a unique political culture that was generally even tempered and restrained.

Moscow and Brussels have no such culture. "Today, even American Russophobes do not say about Russia even 10 percent [of the negative remarks] made by European moderates," Yevstafev said. "The problem is that we are responding in kind and saying the same things about Europe."

In addition to the bilateral issues mentioned above, it cannot be forgotten that there is a vast economic disparity between Russia and the EU. The union is now the largest free market in the world, while Russia's unstable economy remains heavily dependent on oil exports and other external factors. Before enlargement, trade with the EU accounted for 46 percent of Russia's foreign-trade turnover, "Izvestiya" reported on 24 February. After enlargement, that figure will be 54 percent. By comparison, Russia's share of the EU's total trade volume -- excluding energy -- is just 4 percent. In political terms, this disproportion gives the EU considerable leverage in its dealings with Moscow.

Perhaps as a means of compensating for its weak position vis a vis Brussels, the Kremlin has been cultivating its bilateral ties with the key countries of "old Europe" in recent years. Putin enjoys "special personal relations" with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and French President Jacques Chirac.

Russia's relationships with European countries are usually more pragmatic than ideological. In the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March, Moscow sided with Berlin and Paris in opposing military action. However, this came precisely when Moscow needed German and French support in its long negotiations with the EU over the status of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, and the United States rightly recognized this factor and did not unnecessarily antagonize Moscow over Iraq.

Russia's various flirtations with old Europe irritate the European Commission, which is concerned with the unity of the EU. Lukyanov referred to the words of Frits Bolkenstein, EU commissioner for Internal Markets, Taxation, and Customs Union issues, who criticized Berlusconi for "promising Putin EU membership on his own initiative." "This is shortsighted," Bolkenstein said. "We should not be shy about saying that there are borders to the EU and that we should not encourage hopes that we can never meet." On 3 May, European Commission President Romano Prodi said virtually the same thing, stressing that although the EU wants to cooperate with Russia and other CIS members, they will never become EU members, Russian and Western media reported.

Yevstafev also raised another point regarding Russia's relations with the EU. The union's joint projects and plans with Russia were all developed when Russia was economically weak and politically diminished. At that time, Russia was viewed -- at best -- as a market for agricultural goods. Now, the EU is struggling to come to terms with a politically ambitious and economically recovering Russia because the union simply has nothing of interest to offer Moscow, Yevstafev said.

It is remarkable that Yevstafev's commentary was published by "Ekspert," an upscale weekly that maintains a somewhat liberal, but ultimately Kremlin-friendly editorial line. The weekly is part of the financial-industrial empire of Interros holding company CEO Vladimir Potanin, who is a Putin loyalist. Yevstafiev's views are more in line with those of the nationalist-statist camp, which once had the dream of forming a pan-European bloc embracing Russia and old Europe to counterbalance the United States. Author Maksim Kalashnikov is a representative of the so-called national-revanche school who is known as "the Russian Tom Clancy" and who has long advocated the restoration of Russia's military might.

In his best-selling 2003 book, "The Wrath of Ork," Kalashnikov wrote that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the purveyors of Eurasianism -- particularly Eurasia party leader Aleksandr Dugin (see -- believed that it would be possible to manipulate rising anti-American sentiment in Europe, particularly in Germany. They argued that Russia and Europe could form a transcontinental bloc to counter the naval power of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Under this scenario, Europe should actively invest in Russia in order to unite its technological advantages and capital with Russia's natural resources, its remaining military-industrial complex, and its space technology. But now these dreams seem almost quaint. "Europe simply does not need Russia as it is now," Kalashnikov wrote. Even investment in Russia's energy sector is much less attractive than opportunities in Kazakhstan, Libya, Iraq, or Vietnam, he added. In addition, Europe -- mainly Germany -- gave huge state and commercial loans to the modernize the Soviet economy, but that money was largely wasted, and now Russia owes Germany billions of dollars. Obviously, all the earlier illusions are gone.

Taking into consideration Russia's enormous size and the difficulties that have been encountered in Germany's incorporation of the former East Germany, German politicians and bankers are convinced that Russia could bankrupt the country. "They don't give a damn about Eurasianism and continental brotherhood," Kalashnikov wrote.

"Previously, Europe saw Russia as a terrible bear, whose existence enabled Europe to get some benefits from the United States. Now that bear is feeble, but it still wants to eat and that poses a serious problem for Europe," he concluded.

The actual situation is not as dramatic as Kalashnikov depicts it. However, the new cohabitation of Russia and the EU has so far produced more questions than answers, and the future seems problematic.