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Russia - Europe Relations

Russia's main interest is to destroy European unity. Russia deliberately chooses confrontation rather than partnership. Russian policy significantly shifted in Putin's third term as President, where limits and restraint no longer apply. And more importantly, Russia is now firm and committed to pushing back and pushing out EU engagement in the so-called "near abroad”. It is a short-term pursuit of raw power. In effect, they are recreating a new Iron Curtain through the former Soviet space. After World War II the fundamental premise of peace in Europe, and in the world, was the inviolability of post war borders. With the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Putin overturned this order.

The European Union is a bloc of 450 million people with a GDP nine times larger than that of Russia. The Russian economy is slightly larger than Spain’s and smaller than Italy’s. Collectively, teh EU countries spend almost three times as much as Russia on defense. What they lack is will. Unfortunately for the EU’s eastern hawks, France and Germany, Spain and Italy, the EU’s big countries, are similarly meek when it comes to Russia.

In July 2021 Former French prime minister Francois Fillon was named to the board of Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft. Fillon was just the latest in a string of former senior European politicians to join Russian energy companies. Austrian ex-foreign minister Karin Kneissl, who notoriously danced with President Vladimir Putin at her wedding in 2018, was in June named to the board of Rosneft, Russia's biggest oil producer. Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had been chairman of the Rosneft board since 2017, earning $600,000 a year.

The EU's High Representative for foreign policy, Josep Borrell, faced criticism from Western politicians over a cordial, even friendly, meeting with his counterpart, Lavrov, as part of a visit to Russia on 05 February 2021. The Baltic states and Poland warned Borrell against visiting Moscow in the wake of its imprisonment of Alexei Navalny. Borrell was humiliated. In a press conference, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the EU as an “unreliable partner”, while Borrell stood alongside. As Borrell was in Moscow, the Russian government expelled diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden for attending pro-Navalny rallies.

Dominic Cruz Bustillos and Alexander Vindman noted: "Borrell traveled to Moscow in the latest effort by a Western leader to reset relations with Russia. Previous resets have lasted a few years; less successful efforts have lasted months; this effort lasted mere hours. During his short visit, Borrell was so humiliated by his Russian counterparts that it imperiled his brief tenure as high representative. Following this failure, Carl Bildt, former prime minister of Sweden and a fixture of the European foreign policy establishment, criticized the reset efforts as futile and even counterproductive so long as the Kremlin refuses to reset its own policies."

Eyebrows were raised in Moscow after the former Spanish foreign minister announced 09 February 2021 that he would lead the charge for new sanctions on Tuesday. last week. However, on returning to Brussels he struck an altogether different tone. Back in Brussels after disastrous visit to Moscow, Borrell performed an about turn, lobbying EU members for more anti-Russia sanctions. “I wanted to test whether the Russian authorities are interested in a serious attempt to reverse the deterioration of our relations and seize the opportunity to have a more constructive dialogue,” Borrell said. “The answer has been clear: No, they are not.”

Fresh economic sanctions under consideration in Brussels could lead to Russia deciding to walk away from dealings with the European Union altogether, the country’s foreign minister has said in comments broadcast on 12 February 2021. In a clip aired as a preview for an interview on the Soloviev LIVE YouTube channel, Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would seriously consider giving up on relations with the bloc amid growing tensions. The diplomat was asked whether Russia might break off ties in the face of hostile new policies being mooted by EU chiefs. “Our starting point is that we are ready,” he said. “If we see again, as we have seen several times before, that sanctions are being imposed in areas that create risks for our economy.” He stressed“Of course, we do not want to isolate ourselves from living in the world, but we must be ready for this. If you want peace, prepare for war".

According to Lavrov, the European Union had been influenced to take a Russophobic position by an aggressive minority, including the Baltic States and other Eastern European countries. Speaking to journalist Vladimir Solovyov, Lavrov said the European Union’s stance towards Moscow started to become more negative in 2004, when the bloc expanded to include Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as seven other countries. The Baltic States, which were once part of the Soviet Union, have dragged Brussels towards an anti-Russia stance, he said. “They have become the most ardent Russophobes and are pulling the EU to Russophobic positions,” Lavrov said. “On many issues, the European Union’s solidarity-driven position is determined by a Russophobic, aggressive minority.... We were told they still had some phobias from their past in the Soviet Union, but were assured they would calm down as soon as they become members of the European Union and NATO,” he said. “The opposite has happened.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "The point is that we don’t want this [to sever ties with the EU] but seek to develop relations with the European Union. However, if the EU chooses to go down this path [of imposing sanctions that entail risk for the Russian economy], then yes, we will be ready because you need to be ready for the worst," he explained. "This is what the minister spoke about. However, the meaning was distorted, and this sensationalist headline was presented in a way that paints Russia practically ready to initiate the break-up with the EU itself," Peskov said. "I just wanted to lament this," the spokesman acknowledged.

Worsening ties between the EU and Russia are the fault of Brussels, Sergey Lavrov claimed, saying that the bloc blamed Moscow for its woes in Ukraine and had unilaterally torn up beneficial diplomatic agreements. Speaking at a press conference in St. Petersburg on 15 February 2021 and citing what he called Brussels’ failed political intervention in Ukraine during the country’s 2014 Maidan protests, Lavrov said that “it was then that the real humiliation of the EU took place.” Since then, Lavrov said, its politicians have been “by and large indifferent at the attacks that the inhabitants of Crimea and eastern Ukraine were subjected to by the ultra-radicals and neo-Nazis who came to power.”

At the same time, he said, the EU “blamed the Russian Federation for everything that is happening” and “has consistently destroyed all mechanisms without exception that existed on the basis of an agreement on partnership and cooperation.” Lavrov added that there were actually few areas left in which Russia actively worked with the bloc. He said dealings with the international body “are now sporadic,” and related largely only to negotiations around oil and gas, or pressing foreign policy issues, such as Syria, and Iran’s nuclear program. Hopes for a thawing in relations after a warm visit to Moscow by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell were dashed after the envoy told a hearing in Brussels that he would “put forward concrete proposals” for sanctions against Russia.

By mid-2018 European capitals were at odds with Washington over Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal. Moscow shared Europe's position on the deal. Some commentators said that a shared opposition to Trump's stances on Iran and other issues could lead to a rapprochement between Europe and Russia, repairing a relationship badly damaged by the Ukraine conflict.

The crisis in Ukraine destroyed Europeans' illusions that they could form agreements with the east without experiencing counter-pressure from Russia. In the aftermath of the crisis, Europe had to take power politics into account - much more than it had done before. According to Jan Techau, who heads the think tank Carnegie Europe "Russia has shown us that power politics, politics of strength, military threats, blackmailing - all these things - are going to be political instruments".

By 2016 there was growing nationalism in many NATO states, and in the European Union. Uncertainties were arising from Russian policies and especially from the way that Russia was acting in the Middle East. Its actions had done nothing to lessen the number of refugees coming to Europe.

Russia is the EU's biggest neighbor and third biggest trading partner, with Russian supplies of oil and gas making up a large percentage of its exports to Europe. Only Russia is dissatisfied with the European status quo institutions. In contrast to the Cold War, Russia lacked military leverage in Europe; while an important economic power and a potentially important political model (as a democratic-authoritarian alternative), Russia remained militarily insignificant except on the "fringe" issues of Abkhazia and other frozen conflicts.

In the post-Soviet period, Russia's foreign policy shifted significantly, most often in response to domestic rather than foreign conditions. A strong nationalist faction in the parliament, which has been compared with the nineteenth-century Slavophile movement that sought to protect Russian culture from the harmful intrusion of Western civilization, urged that Russia recapture as much influence as possible.

The 18th and 19th centuries witnessed a debate on Russia's place in the world, the meaning of Russian history, and the future of Russia. One group, the Westernizers, believed that Russia remained backward and primitive and could progress only through more thorough Europeanization. Another group, the Slavophiles, idealized the Russia that had existed before Peter the Great. The Slavophiles viewed old Russia as a source of wholeness and looked askance at Western rationalism and materialism. Some of them believed that the Russian peasant commune, or mir , offered an attractive alternative to Western capitalism and could make Russia a potential social and moral savior. The Slavophiles, therefore, represented a form of Russian messianism.

The Soviet Union's relations with Western Europe following World War II were colored heavily by Soviet relations with Eastern Europe and by the Warsaw Pact forces arrayed in Europe against NATO forces. The Soviet influence over Eastern Europe, punctuated by the 1956 invasion of Hungary and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and by a constant buildup of conventional and nuclear forces, prompted West European NATO member nations to reinforce their defenses and discouraged direct relations between those nations and the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union's policy toward Western Europe had five basic goals: preventing rearmament and nuclearization of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany); preventing the political, economic, or military integration of Western Europe; obtaining West European endorsement of the existing territorial division of the continent; splitting the NATO alliance by encouraging anti-Americanism on various issues; and creating nuclear-free zones by encouraging European peace groups and leftist movements. The more general aim was to make Western Europe as similar as possible to the Soviet Union's highly advanced northwestern neighbor, Finland: a neutral buffer zone whose political reactions could be anticipated under any circumstances, and which would refrain from commitments to Western nations. In the early 1980s, a conflict in Western Europe over NATO and Warsaw Pact nuclear installations accelerated Soviet efforts to neutralize NATO's European contingent. The Soviet Union tried to foster a European détente separate from one with the United States. The effort was defeated because West European governments were determined to uphold and modernize NATO, and Soviet-sponsored peace groups failed to arouse public opinion against NATO participation.

The Soviet-era division of Europe into two distinct military alliances continues to influence Russia's policy toward Western Europe. NATO remains an active presence in Western Europe, and Russia sees a persistent threat that NATO will embrace the former Warsaw Pact allies and leave Russia without its European buffer zone. Because of this perceived threat, sharpened in the rhetoric of Russian nationalist factions, Russia has been reluctant to accommodate West European nations on a number of issues, even as it has hastened to bolster relations in other areas such as commerce.

Even before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin pursued closer relations with Western Europe on behalf of the Russian Republic. In his first foreign trip after the failure of the August 1991 coup had substantially improved his stature as president of the Russian Republic, Yeltsin visited Germany to seek safeguards for Germans residing in Russia. After 1991 Russia's relations with Western Europe achieved a level of integration and comity that the Soviet Union had aspired to but had never reached. The draft foreign policy concept of January 1993 called for Russian foreign policy to consolidate the emerging partnership with the states of Western Europe, but it also emphasized that Russia's vital interests might cause disagreement on some issues. Russia's major goals included gaining West European aid and markets, recognition of Russia's interests in Central Europe and the CIS, and regional cooperation in combating organized crime and nuclear smuggling. Germany emerged as the largest European aid donor to Russia and its largest trade and investment partner.

In June 1994, Yeltsin and the leaders of the European Union (EU) signed an agreement on partnership and cooperation. Pending the ratification of the agreement by the member states, a provisional economic accord was drawn up in early 1995 extending most-favored-nation status to Russia and reducing many import quotas. Because of Western disapproval over the war in Chechnya, the EU did not sign the agreement until July 1995, following a cease-fire in Chechnya.

The Council of Europe also sidelined a Russian application for membership as a sign of disapproval of events in Chechnya, and in July 1995 the council issued a report detailing Russian (as well as some Chechen) human rights abuses in Chechnya. After the conclusion of the cease-fire, Russian officials requested reconsideration of Russia's application. The council granted Russia full membership in January 1996. European authorities explained that admitting Russia into Europe's foremost body on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law would promote democratic trends in Russia more effectively than the isolation that would result if membership were denied. A substantial body of European opinion continued to oppose admission, however, especially when Russian army attacks on Chechen civilians continued and Russia failed to impose a required moratorium on capital punishment.

In February 1996, the Council of Europe and the EU announced an aid package to help Russia meet the legal and human rights requirements of membership in the council. Tensions in Russia's relations with the West continued, however, with its refusal in April 1996 to provide arms sales data. These data are necessary for establishment of a military technology export control regime to replace the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom), which NATO used during the Soviet era to monitor world arms shipments.

The original CFE Treaty was signed in 1990 by 16 NATO countries and six Warsaw Pact members and came into force in 1992. The treaty set equal ceilings for each bloc on five key categories of conventional armaments and military hardware, including tanks, combat armored vehicles, artillery, assault helicopters and combat aircraft. The CFE Treaty played a crucial stabilizing role during the breakup of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe. However, later the document became largely outdated and irrelevant amid large-scale changes in the military and political environment. The CFE Treaty aimed at stabilizing and limiting the nonnuclear forces of all European nations. Signed in the context of the NATO-Warsaw Pact division of Europe, the treaty remained a basis for reduction of tensions in Europe after the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union dissolved.

Although the Russian military accepted the CFE Treaty, in the ensuing years it increasingly insisted that the signatories allow modification of force limits on Europe's flanks, which included the still substantial garrison in Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic and the troublesome Caucasus region. In the early 1990s, Russia shifted much weaponry to the southern flank area to stabilize its North Caucasus republics, particularly breakaway Chechnya, as well as the independent but conflict-plagued Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Although NATO proposed some alterations in Russia's flank limits in September 1995, Russia still was not in compliance when the treaty came into full force in November 1995. Russia met the treaty's overall arms reduction targets, however. Russia called for further modifications of the treaty's troop disposition requirements to be put on the agenda of a planned May 1996 review conference. After intense negotiations, the conferees finally agreed to allow Russia to retain additional equipment in the southern flank area for three years.

The treaty was updated in 1999, but NATO members states refused to ratify it, citing the fact that Russia was keeping troops in Georgia and the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdnestr as a pretext. Russia imposed a unilateral moratorium on the CFE treaty in December 2007, citing concerns over NATO's eastward expansion, U.S. missile defense plans for Europe, and the refusal of alliance members to ratify the adapted treaty. Moscow repeatedly said it will resume its participation in the CFE if NATO member states ratify the adapted treaty. Six years after announcing a unilateral moratorium on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), in 2013 the Russian Defense Ministry reaffirmed that the original document had no prospects in the future.

Negotiations on a new, EU-Russia Agreement were launched at the 2008 Khanty-Mansiysk summit. The new agreement should provide a more comprehensive framework for EU-Russia relations, reflecting the growth in cooperation since the early 1990s, and include substantive, legally binding commitments in all areas of the partnership, including political dialogue, freedom, security & justice, economic cooperation, research, education & culture, trade, investment and energy.

Drawn up following the 2010 Rostov Summit, the Partnership for Modernisation deals with all aspects of modernisation – economic, technical (including standards and regulations) rule of law and functioning of the judiciary. The Partnership has become a focal point of mutual cooperation, reinforcing dialogue started under the common spaces. Overall, the EU and Russia cooperate on a number of challenges of bilateral and international concern, including climate change, drug and human trafficking, organized crime, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, the Middle East peace process, and Iran.

NATO expansion remains the "poison pill" in Russia's relations with Europe [and the US]. Russians viewed NATO as a direct threat, as an organization that could one day redefine its interests in a manner that would lead to renewed military conflict or competition with Russia. The January 1993 draft foreign policy concept of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for increasing ties with NATO through the North Atlantic Cooperation Council and other means, including military liaison, joint maneuvers, and exchange visits. Russia objected to full NATO membership for Poland and other Central European states, so the United States proposed establishment of NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) in the fall of 1993. The PfP was to be an ancillary of NATO, consisting entirely of the former Warsaw Pact states and former Soviet republics. By the end of 1995, twenty-seven states--the entire complement of those two groups--had joined. Yeltsin supported Russia's membership in the PfP in his "state of the federation" address to the Russian parliament in February 1994, but he opposed the future inclusion in NATO of Central European states as unacceptably excluding Russia from participation in European affairs.

Russia has shown its willingness to cut the flow of energy supplies to two key transit states, Ukraine and Belarus, over price disputes, notwithstanding the disruptions to its EU customers farther west. As an "energy superpower," Russia banks on European energy dependence to provide ballast to its relations with Europe, otherwise buffeted by criticism over Georgia and human rights. Russia supplied approximately one-half of European gas imports in 2008, with some European countries completely dependent on Russia for their gas. Russia, for its part, is dependent on Europe for virtually all of its gas exports, which provide some three-quarters of Gazprom's revenues. Approximately 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe travel through Ukraine, which itself has a tense energy (and political) relationship with Russia. The Russian-European interdependence in the gas area is a key factor in their broader relationship as Europe seeks to diversify its gas supplies and Russia seeks to diversify its export routes and markets.

Cynthia A. Roberts noted in 2007 that "Russo-European Union (EU) relations is one of the most important security issues in Europe and Russia because this relationship will help determine the security situation throughout Eastern and Central Europe well into the future. The course of this relationship also will influence in large measure the extent to which Russia moves toward realizing its historic European vocation and its proclaimed ambition to become a democracy. On the other side, the relationship will influence significantly the capability of the EU to function effectively as a union of European states, possibly including Russia, and other European members of the Commonwealth of Independent States like Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia."

Russia views the NATO buildup near its borders as a demonstration of hostile intentions and the deployment of additional forces in Central and Eastern Europe as a violation of the Founding Act and promises to retaliate against that move. 'We cannot help but see the alliance's military buildup near the Russian borders as a demonstration of hostile intentions. The additional deployment of substantial combat forces of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe, even through rotation principles, can hardly be called anything else but a direct violation of the provisions of the 1997 Russia-NATO Founding Act,' Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov said 09 June 2014 in an interview with Interfax. 'Indeed, we cannot disregard the militarization of neighboring states and will have to take the necessary political and military-technological measures to support our security,' the senior diplomat indicated.

On December 4, 2014 Vladimir Putin made his Annual Address to the Federal Assembly. He said "If for some European countries national pride is a long-forgotten concept and sovereignty is too much of a luxury, true sovereignty for Russia is absolutely necessary for survival."

By November 2015 some argued that the series of terrorist attacks in Franceand the downing of the Russian Metrojet airliner over Sinai had forced Russia and the West to recognize that there was a common enemy – international terrorism, represented first and foremost by ISIS. They claimed that this enemy must be crushed with united efforts, while all other disagreements [eg, Ukraine] would be given secondary importance. A single anti-terrorist front would not be formed, for now.

Broadcast live on Russian television, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin questioned why British Prime Minister David Cameron even allowed the vote. “Brexit is now a very big issue, but why did he initiate this referendum, why did he do it? To intimidate Europe, or to threaten someone? What is the point of this if he himself opposes the idea?,” asked a befuddled Putin. The Russian president would not say whether he was in favor or against Brexit, but acknowledged there would be consequences for Europe.

In an interview with Izvestiya in June 2016, International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council member Andrei Klimov called the Brexit vote part of a “moral evaluation” of the processes taking place in Europe. Added together with the Netherlands' referendum against the EU-Ukraine association agreement and the French parliament’s vote to lift sanctions on Russia, both non-binding, it showed Europe had not learned to speak with one voice, said Klimov.

Right-wing conservatives and patriots increasingly commanded support among the European public while shattering the pillars of the Brussels-imposed "liberal order." The refugee crisis and the EU's inability to cope with it apparently became a wake-up call for the Old Continent. Under these circumstances, Russia had taken on a new significance in the eyes of the European Right as a citadel of traditional values. Simultaneously, on the other side of the ocean, Donald Trump faced confrontation from the US political establishment.

Glenn Diesen is Visiting Scholar at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and Adjunct Research Fellow at Western Sydney University. In his book "The Decay of Western Civilization and Resurgence of Russia", he proposes that Western civilisation has reached a critical juncture as modern society (gesellschaft) has overwhelmed and exhausted the traditional community (gemeinschaft). Diesen says that : " I build on the ideas of Spengler, who argued that civilizations begin to decay once they outgrow the culture they are built upon. This is also similar to the arguments of Pitirim A. Sorokin, Ferdinand Tönnies, and philosophers dating back to Plato. The challenge for all civilizations is to position themselves between stasis and transformation....

"The European conservatives are not identical, and they present both challenges and opportunities. A commonality is that most of them reject the artificial redrawing of ideological borders after the Cold War. Trump and the rest do not divide the world into liberal democracies versus authoritarian states; rather, they see the fight for civilization to be between globalists and nationalists or cosmopolitans versus patriots. Russia, therefore, switches from being an adversary to an ally, as Russia has emerged as an international conservative leader that stands up for traditional European culture, Christianity, traditional values, and the family unit. Russia has returned to its pre-communist role as the go-to country for Western classical conservatives...."

By 2019, relations with Europe remained strained: Russian interference in numerous elections and referendums in EU countries over the last decade; Russia's active disinformation campaigns across the EU; Russian-based cyberattacks targeting numerous EU countries; provocative Russian military flights in and around EU and NATO airspace; Russia's alleged interference with GPS navigation systems in Scandinavia; Russia's continued deployment of "peacekeepers" in Moldova despite that country's repeated requests that Russian troops be replaced with UN peacekeepers; Russia's 2008 war against Georgia and its continued occupation of some 20 percent of Georgian territory; Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region; Russia's intense involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine, which the ICC in November 2016 ruled "an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation"; Russia's obstructionism in implementation of the Minsk agreements to end the Ukraine conflict; Russia's role in the 2014 downing of a passenger airliner over Ukraine that killed 298 people; Russia's poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in 2006; and Russia's attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 17:24:47 ZULU