EU-Russia Relations from a Russian Point of View | Heinrich Böll Stiftung European Union
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These high-profile incidents have raised the issue on the EU agenda, inspiring European governments to look at Russian influence in their countries and start — though unevenly and often clumsily — to work on countermeasures. There is some home-grown logic behind their stance and activities; Russia generally plays the role of an ally of convenience. While Europe worries about the effects of pro-Russian populism, to observers in Russia it is evident that European fringe parties have only limited pro-Russian influence.
The view that Russia is an important global actor with which Europeans need to find agreement is shared by mainstream political forces in several European countries Austria and Italy, to name just two. In some states — including Slovenia, and parts of Bulgaria and France — Russia is seen as a counterweight to other powers, usually the US.
But this more likely stems from condemnation of the US than praise of Russia. RT and Sputnik have only a minor impact. They enjoy some niche appeal among people who, for one reason or another, feel neglected by the mainstream media — such as Latin American audiences in Spain and some Scottish audiences in the lead-up to the Scottish referendum on independence, during which parts of the British mainstream media ridiculed and neglected the independence cause.
Countries that have deep cultural and historical links to Russia, such as Italy and Bulgaria, are far from seeing contemporary Russia as a model for state governance. The prolific business links with Russia enjoyed by Austria, Italy, and Germany may have led to dissatisfaction with EU policies, but all these countries have refrained from serious efforts to break ranks on sanctions — so far, at least. Some European experts now believe that the necessary awareness has crossed over into unhelpful paranoia.
In much of the media discussion, Russia plays a prominent role in almost every bit of ill-fortune that has befallen the West — from the refugee crisis to the rise of populism to the independence referendum in Catalonia. In Decemberfor instance, elections in Bulgaria and Moldova coincided with a change in government in Estonia — prompting the media to briefly interpret all three as victories for Russia. In fact, Russia was not a defining factor — or even a factor at all — in any of these events.
This tendency of interpreting every election or event through the Russian lens is counterproductive. Russian efforts can only play on pre-existing social cleavages. Arguably, their efforts can amplify existing tensions, but most European societies are proving quite adept at polarising themselves. Reducing everything to Russian meddling leads to dangerous neglect of the real issues behind home-grown polarisation and encourages demagogic politicians to use the threat from Russia opportunistically.
For decades, European elites have felt basically safe on the home front, but they can no longer take such domestic immunity for granted. Russia has induced fear and occasionally derailed the European agenda, by making Europeans fear the Russian hand when they should focus on their own shortcomings. However, in the context of the normative contest, there is also some good news for the West: No European country alone can compete effectively in the normative struggle with Russia. A decade ago, a lack of unity was the chief reason that Europe had no effective policy on Russia.
Today, the EU may face various crises and lack self-confidence, but it has overcome many of the issues that once paralysed its Russia policy. Europe still seems to think of itself as deeply split on Russia. And Moscow has noticed.
Europe is now united in its assessment of Russia. This sharply contrasts with the situation ten years ago, when Baltic states and Poland viewed Russia as a consolidating authoritarian state with dangerous ambitions abroad, while Germany still saw it as a country that was democratising — even if slowly, with multiple detours and setbacks.
Now, European policymakers overwhelmingly perceive Russia as posing a normative challenge. They view Moscow as seeking to dismantle the post-cold war European order.
At the same time, the narratives Moscow promotes — which paint Russia as the victim of Western policies and its actions as forced responses to Western assertiveness — have only very limited traction in a few EU member states such as Austria, Cyprus, and Greece.
Winning the normative war with Russia: An EU-Russia Power Audit
European views are also significantly aligned in assessments of the military threat from Russia. Six EU countries think that Russia poses a direct military threat to them, and to Europe as a whole; ten believe that Russia might threaten the fringe states of the EU; and five others see Russia as a military threat not to the EU, but to non-member states in eastern Europe.
These negative expectations even affect the Arctic, where the relationship between Russia and EU countries has in fact been mostly constructive. Overall, bad experiences with Russia on issues such as Ukraine, Syria, and interference in European domestic politics have now spilled over into low expectations from nearly everyone in nearly all areas.
This solidarity translates into strong support for sanctions, even though member states are broadly ambivalent about how well the measures work. Most countries think that sanctions against Russia are necessary. Southern Europeans lend their support to the EU on Russia as a down payment on support for other, priority issues from states in the east and the north that view the country as an existential threat. Most governments are under some domestic pressure to lift sanctions — stemming from political parties or business lobbies — but this pressure is strong and meaningful only in Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and likely also — after its latest elections — Italy.
There is also considerable unanimity on when to end sanctions on Russia. The overwhelming majority of member states believe that the EU can only lift sanctions once Ukraine has regained control of its eastern border, while seven countries are ready to consider gradually easing sanctions if Russia starts making steps towards withdrawing from eastern Ukraine. Only Hungary says that sanctions definitely do not work and should be dropped as soon as possible — but even Budapest has not come close to breaking ranks on their renewal.
Member states want normative questions to be handled by the EU as a whole; only Hungary, Greece, Austria, and Bulgaria have any faith in the bilateral track. More importantly, there has been no serious effort to challenge consensus European policies. Brussels insiders say that the rollover of sanctions twice per year has, if anything, become easier — despite some sotto voce grumbling.
Countries that do not like sanctions, however, tend to emphasise the need for universal compliance — and rightly so. Member states need to pick their fights with Brussels.
Russia is a priority for those who feel threatened by it, but it is less important to those who do not. It is not all togetherness. Hungary and perhaps Greece are examples of countries in which disagreements with the EU mainstream on asylum policy and the protection of civil society, and the euro respectively correlate with a divergent stance on Russia.
Indeed, Hungary stands out as the one EU country that, in the context of normative war, often takes a stance closer to the Russian side of the argument.
Overall, Russia may still try to sow discord within the EU, but it is far less able to play member states off against each other than it was ten years ago. But it is clearly not enough to manage the normative challenge that Russia poses. For that, one also needs policy. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov once jokingly added a third: EU member states generally agree that Russia is to blame. Sanctions on Russia and troop reinforcements in eastern EU states have provided some answers to the question of what is to be done.
Nonetheless, the EU cannot prevail in a normative war if it does not know how to tackle the challenger. To be effective, the EU also needs a common Russia strategy that reflects not just Europe, but also Russia. What can it achieve?
Russia–European Union relations
How can Russia fit into the liberal world order that the EU seeks to promote? How can the EU influence Moscow? Answering these questions is difficult and risks dividing Europe on Russia once again.
But an effective Russia strategy for a normative war needs to accommodate an agreement on concrete policies. The EU will need to strategise, not just sermonise. The — clearly non-exhaustive — list of issues below highlights some areas in which a lack of both clarity and a joint approach hampers EU policymaking.
For instance, the EU does not have a common strategy on sanctions, its eastern neighbourhood, or energy security. In addition, there is also confusion about methods — such as dialogue with Russia — and the division of work between member states and EU institutions. For EU countries, such an approach is simply unacceptable — made taboo by their twentieth-century experiences with spheres of influence. Ukraine is a prime example here: Russia had extensive leverage over its economy and leadership, only to see it swept away in a popular revolution.
Or one could look at Belarus and Armenia: Europe cannot possibly endow Moscow with the sphere of influence it craves: But, similarly, the EU lacks a viable policy for addressing this conceptual clash. Russia is determined to resist any such development, while the countries themselves are going through a long and bumpy political transformation, characterised by ongoing tension between corrupt elites and maturing societies that demand a greater say.
There is not a desire for EU membership everywhere and, even where there is, the reforms required by the accession process would infringe on the vested interests of powerful domestic constituencies. It would not mean that West had brought Russia around to the ideas of cooperative, mutually beneficial arrangements that Europe sees as the goal for the continent. And, conversely, if these countries fail to reform, they still retain their rights to sovereignty and territorial integrity.
To prevail, the EU needs to focus not just on promoting democracy, but also on upholding the principles of the OSCE-based post-cold war European order. It needs to find ways to boost the sovereignty of these countries without an immediate membership perspective. The demand is there; Belarus, for example, has clearly asked: The goal and future of sanctions The EU has maintained unity on sanctions for four years.
The absence of immediate results has led some policymakers — most notably in Italy, but also in Austria and Hungary — to declare that sanctions do not work. There is no doubt, though, that sanctions have had economic effects.
The political effects are less clear, but still detectable. Inthe sanctions did not succeed at convincing political and business elites to put pressure on the Kremlin. Byhowever, a prominent group of technocrats started speaking up in favour of improving relations with the West. The lesson here is that sanctions are inherently a long-term instrument.
They do not work in isolation, but in combination with other policies and developments. Furthermore, in a normative war, the stated aim may not even be the most important one. Energy security The Russians have often tried to use their energy relationship with various European states to corrupt and divide the EU.
In the last ten years or so, however, Moscow has had little success in this effort. The EU has done many other things to diversify its energy supply away from Russia: Today, Russia remains the largest supplier of gas to the EU, but it cannot use gas as a weapon in the normative struggle in the way that it did ten years ago.
EU-Russia Relations in the New Putin Era – ICDS
However, disputes around the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — which would run from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea — show that there continue to be important disagreements. Unlike the debate over Nord Stream 1, that over Nord Stream 2 is not about how to deal with Russia but rather about competing business interests and differing views of energy security and diversification.
Nor does Nord Stream 2 divide member states the way Nord Stream 1 did: Even so, the views of EU states do not provide a basis for sound policy. Some countries in northern Europe — such as Denmark and, to a lesser extent, Sweden — consider the pipeline to be a security concern, fearing that Russia will use maintenance as a cover for covert operations. Others, such as Finland, see it as a purely commercial endeavour.
Some countries view Nord Stream 2 as contrary to the letter or the spirit of the Energy Union, while others believe that the pipeline should be allowed because it predates the concept of the Energy Union.
Finally, Germany considers the supply of Russian gas via multiple pipelines to be sufficient energy diversification if the product can later be freely sold in an interconnected European market, while Poland believes that true diversification and energy security are unachievable without greater involvement of suppliers other than Russia.
Ultimately, who is right matters less than resolving the disagreement. European unity on Russia is far more important than the energy market effects of Nord Stream 2. The latter can always be mitigated, but the Russians are already seeking to use disagreements over Nord Stream 2 to undermine broader European unity on Russia policy. To avoid this outcome, all sides need to seek a compromise on the approach, agree on a European-level process, and commit to accepting the result.
The role of the EU To prevail in the normative struggle, member states also need to think harder about how to integrate the EU — its member states and EU institutions — into diplomacy with Russia. This non-EU arrangement has worked relatively well until now but, even so, it is probably unsustainable.
France and Germany have done a good job of building support for their efforts; Germany has taken particular care of the concerns of the countries that are most vulnerable and sensitive to all things related to Russia — such as Baltic states — by keeping them informed.
But some dissatisfaction is building up among medium-sized EU countries such as Sweden and Holland, which — while they do not dispute the essence of the policy — would like to play a larger role. We created European institutions to represent us all. They go for various reasons. Finland wants to maintain contact with a complicated neighbour, while Austria wants to enhance its business contacts with Russia.
But many ministers, such as the Swedes or the British, just want to be part of the game, to feel relevant. These visits are not bad in and of themselves. For now, they are mostly harmless, if largely useless.
Yet, in theory, Moscow might seek to make use of such contact to split Europe and erode the consensus behind sanctions or other policies. This conception should also guide and empower EU institutions. For Moscow, it is exactly these institutions that embody the strict normative face of the EU. Around that time, Russia contacted Juncker with some policy proposals, but it never heard back from him — while bilateral tracks hummed along as before.
This legacy makes the idea of dialogue contentious and gives birth to fruitless arguments that treat it as an end in itself. Member states are unsure what they want to talk to Russia about, or what talking can achieve in principle. It needs to do better; and the way is obvious: However, they are not enough to counter the Russian normative challenge.
Resilience is important for practical as well as normative reasons. Europe needs to show Moscow that its norms are viable and shared by its societies, and that the collapse of the European order is not on the cards.
Similarly, European policies can only work if they have reasonable support at home. While many of these measures make sense, it is counterproductive to view them primarily as efforts to fight Russia.
Firstly, this is because Europeans cannot effectively counter this part of the Russian normative offensive head on. It is simply too diffuse. When Europeans mobilise against them with the resources of the state, it can often seem like an overreaction: Instead of fighting raindrops, one should fix the roof. Some Europeans have already learned this lesson: We would now like to give it back to you!
Invest in horizontal links between state agencies: By definition, hybrid threats emerge in multiple fields. This often complicates early warning processes, as information on what is happening remains scattered across different agencies. Governments should therefore ensure that state agencies talk to one another. It has criticised their admission and frequently said that NATO is "moving its infrastructure closer to the Russian border".
Unlike in the Cold War, when Soviets largely supported leftist groups, a fluid approach to ideology now allows the Kremlin to simultaneously back far-left and far-right movements, greens, anti-globalists and financial elites.
The aim is to exacerbate divides and create an echo chamber of Kremlin support. In the Europarliamentthe European United Left—Nordic Green Left are described as "reliable partner" of Russian politics, voting against resolutions condemning events such as Russia's military intervention in Ukraine, and supporting Russian policies e.
Reviewing votes in the EU Parliament on resolutions critical of Russia or measures not in the Kremlin's interests e. Russian officials have on numerous occasions warned Europe that fracking "poses a huge environmental problem" in spite of Gazprom itself being involved in shale gas surveys in Romania and not facing any protests and reacted aggressively to any criticism by environmental organisations.
Travelling through Moscow, they were met by a "government official" and sent to Donetsk, where they saw French and other foreign fighters, "half of them communists, half Nazis".
Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods.
It asserts a privileged position in determining our security choices. It uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from energy blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.
Right across the EU we are seeing alarming evidence of Russian efforts to unpick the fabric of European unity on a whole range of vital strategic issues. Clapperthe U. Director of National Intelligenceto conduct a major review of Russian clandestine funding of European parties over the previous decade.
In the latter an armed coup was actually in progress but prevented by security services on the day of election on 16 October, with over 20 people arrested. Usovsky confirmed the authenticity of the emails. Finland should not desire NATO membership, rather it should preferably have closer military cooperation with Russia. Such decisions will not be left to Russian generals.