Russia and EU: the double context

Monday, 10. November 2008     0 comment(s)
Arkady Moshes
Programme Director - The EU's Eastern Neighbourhood and Russia research programme

It is axiomatic that Russia-EU relations at the moment have dualist nature. One does not need to be an expert to say that, on the one hand, the parties are engaged into a relationship of critical economic interdependence coupled with a well-developed and institutionalized bureaucratic interaction, but that, on the other hand, the value gap between the two is growing and, consequently, the ability to agree on fundamental policy issues is decreasing.

I am just trying to take this analysis a bit further.

We can probably also speak about two mutually contradicting contexts, in which the contacts between Russia and EU take place.

One is the “great power” context. In this context, a dynamic and resurgent nation-state, which perceives itself to be strong enough vis-à-vis a stagnant and internally heterogeneous economic grouping with limited police functions, challenges the Union in normative sense while simultaneously trying to offer it a deal as regards the spheres of influence in the common neighbourhood. Within this context the EU, which was considered to be “of key importance” for Russia in country’s Foreign Policy Concept of 2000, was downgraded to the status of “one of Russia’s main trade-economic and political partners” in the similar document of 2008.

This context is shaped in Russia. But it finds its way into the mindsets of those Europeans, who easily forget about interdependence and speak about unilateral energy dependence instead, who ignore the, actually, incomparably smaller size of Russian economy, let alone its fundamental social and political ills, that highly make it possible for Russia to regain the superpower position in the modern world.

It took me a while before I found a metaphor to describe this phenomenon. But now I have it. It’s a famous football game between Russia and Finland last month in Moscow. Russia scored once, while Finland did twice as much, raising the final result of the Russian victory to three to nil. Same happens in politics, when instead of analyzing thoroughly certain claims that the Russian elite makes in order to understand if they are feasible, some Europeans simply take them at face value and repeat.

But there is also a totally different context, which for the absence of a better term could be called “global”. This one does not come from the heads of opinion-setters in either Russia or Europe, and is, therefore, more objective. It is determined by the realization that Russia and the West are in the same boat, which sailing through the world financial crisis, with one caveat, though, namely, that it is the Russian companies which owe money to the Western banks and not vice versa. It is determined by the growing Russian negative balance in its trade with China and latter’s reluctance to pay the world price for the Russian energy, unlike Europe. It is determined by the fact that as of the moment several million Russian citizens, rich and not so rich, permanently reside on the territory of EU, and dozens of millions visit Europe every year to import back home all sorts of basic things, which are already much cheaper in Europe. And in the final count, it is determined by the imperative of Russian modernization, which can hardly take place without European technologies, investment and education.

So, if I were to advise the European policy-makers, I’d say that their task is to maximize this second, global, context when engaging with Russia, and minimize the readiness to play by the rules of the first one.

Of course, there is also an option of “wait and see”, and EU is good at that. It is highly probable that the prevalence of one of the two contexts will depend on one indicator, measured in US dollars per barrel, which, as a classic saying goes, distinguishes the energy superpower from an energy appendage of developed countries.

But I’d prefer to look for something more constructive and less fatalist.

Texts reflect the opinions of the individual authors

Discuss the topic

Personal information