Russia is not the sole cause of EU's troubles in the neighbourhood

Friday, 19. September 2008     0 comment(s)
Vadim Kononenko
Researcher - The EU's Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia research programme

The current crisis in Russia-Europe relations is often compared to the times of the Cold War and the 19th century Machtpolitik. While it is easy to see that a new Cold War is not feasible – Russia is no Soviet Union – it is tempting to evaluate the crisis in the old terms of power politics. According to such logic, if the return of the Cold War is indeed to big and too nasty a thing to be true, surely the poker game diplomacy between Russia and European powers can well be back, if it has ever left the stage.

In the world of Bismarck and Machiavelli hard politics rules and soft politics is considered ineffective. In such a world, Russia offers a deal to Europe which means that as long as EU stays away from some of Russia’s neighbors, well most of Russia’s neighbors with the exception of the Baltic states, the Europeans can buy all the gas they need from Russia without any major problems. Europe and Russia will divide the continent and live on in a respectful if somewhat distant relationship as great powers.

Some think that this is how the Kremlin sees the situation; others would like Europe to see things that way.  The problem is however is that neither Russia nor the EU is able to act in terms of power politics. With its assertive foreign policy Russia has scared away most of its neighbours while the EU failed to offer substantial incentives in order to build a ring of friends. Both failed strategically in thinking that the region indeed is a sort of a clay board which they can use in building their respective “rings of friends”.

The truth is that contrary to the 19th century, when the small states were pawns in the European power politics, today they are active players with tactics and strategies of their own. Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, as well as Central Asian countries are all playing a complex game making alliances, giving false promises to both Russia and Europe, manipulating with energy issues. It appears that the true believers in power politics are the elites in post-Soviet countries even though most of them would deny that.

For the EU the first step would be to recognize that even though Russia is a major challenge, it is not the sole cause of its failures in the neighborhood. Furthermore, revising a strategy towards Russia might not be helpful in attaining its goals vis-à-vis other neighbors. Coming up with a new Russia strategy will be difficult and –for the time being – not feasible thing to do. On the other hand, revising its strategy towards neighbors might help in understanding how to deal with Russia. In any way, the EU should pay more attention to the actual power politics of other post-Soviet countries rather than seeing Russia as a possible, if willing, counterpart in some neo-Machiavellian grand play.

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