Experts: Russia's relations with EU will continue to develop in waves

Europe does not have a unified policy towards Russia. The current warming of relations is the next stage of development and a ripple effect of ”reset” between Russia and the United States, experts say.

”EU does not and, apparently, in the near future will not have a uniform policy in respect of post-Soviet space. As before, we will deal with an undulating movement, and no final decisions would be taken,” ’Russia – EU’ Program Manager at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs Arkady Moshes said.

Recently there has been observed a trend of a more loyal attitude of Europe to Russia. EU does not strongly oppose to Russia’s desire to gradually regain its political influence in post-Soviet countries, a clear example of which may be the region of Central Asia, as well as Ukraine, where after the change of the pro-Western government there has been a clear trend of convergence with the Russian Federation.

Earlier, European Commissioner for enlargement Stefan Füle stated about the wish of the European Union to cooperate rather than compete with Russia in the post-Soviet sphere. Last week, Russia was offered again to participate in the EU program ”Eastern Partnership” by joining ”a group of friends.”

Moshes believes the proposal to join the ”group of friends” is just a nice gesture, since the institutional format of the ”Eastern Partnership” does not change and member of the ”group of friends” do not have voting right. From a formal point of view, the current proposal is again joining someone else’s initiatives, he said.

Russia earlier was also invited to participate in various projects of the European Partnership – the European Neighborhood Policy, then in the ”Eastern Partnership”, but it refused. Russia was initially suspicious of the initiative of the Eastern Partnership, designated for the economic convergence between the EU and six former Soviet states – Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and Belarus.

Moshes said the European Union always has two views on the future development of relations with Russia. One position is that the structure is ready to develop partnership and cooperation with Russia through the post-Soviet space.

According to another view, Europe should resist for influence in post-Soviet space, especially in its western part, and these countries should not be given ”to the mercy of Russia” and give it the opportunity to achieve a dominant influence. What position would prevail, it is unknown, Moshes belives.

The anniversary-25th EU – Russia Summit that was held in Rostov-on-Don past Monday and Tuesday can serve as an example of the progressive development of the Russian-European relations. The parties agreed to prepare a plan for the substantive discussion of the ”Partnership for modernization” program and also discussed the prospects of the abolition of the visa regime. The statement on the ”partnership for modernization ”listed the priority areas, including innovation, energy, space and others.

Perception of Russia’s position in the world gradually becomes softer and it is connected with the an evolution of Russian diplomacy, the feeling that Russia has discovered the concept of soft power, special adviser to the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri), Dominique Moisi, believes.

”They [the Russians] understand they can get more from the Western world if they appeal to its hope than if they play on its fear”, he told Trend.

Challenge to perception of Russia may be the existence of countries following the logic of choice – either Russia or Europe. Mainly post-Soviet are among these countries, Analyst at the Royal Institute for Studies Chatham House Richard Sakwa supposes.

”It is a complicated position in which negative attitude from the one side seeds negative attitude of the other side,” Sakwa told Trend over the phone.

Well-known Russian political analyst Leonid Radzikhovsky believes the question is what is meant by the Russian-European trend.

If EU considers Russia as a strategic opponent, it is difficult to imagine how EU can turn a blind eye to the expansion of political influence of Russia, Radzikhovsky said.

If EU considers Russia as its strategic and political partner, it will not prevent the increasing influence of the partner, especially in regions that do not pose special interest for EU and to which EU does not have extra funds, for example, the countries of Central Asia, Radzikhovsky believes.

Radzikhovsky regards Ukraine as the most striking example of the expansion of Russia’s influence from the post-Soviet countries.

After the change of the pro-Western Ukrainian government and Viktor Yanukovych’s coming to power, there was observed a tendency on re-rapprochement with Russia. Presidents of Ukraine and Russia signed an agreement in April to extend the term of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol – Ukrainian port city – for 25 years with possible prolongation for another five years. Ukraine, in turn, received discount on Russian gas by 30 percent, which would cost Russia for 10 years in the billion.

EU has no real opportunity to change it, because it is unlikely that EU decides suddenly to offer more to Ukraine, Radzikhovsky said.

European Union, in his opinion, is even interested in closer relations between Russia and Ukraine. ”If earlier, one could observe scandals in the supply of gas every winter, because of what suffered EU members, then it will not now. I think that EU just had a sigh of relief that now Russia is taking problems of Ukraine,” he said.

”But, if suddenly Russia decides to rejoin with Ukraine and Belarus, this certainly will cause great discontent in Europe as well as the presence of nuclear empire, as tends to expand recalls the 30’s. But Russia has no such mad plans,” Radzikhovsky told Trend over the telephone.

The experts agree that the current warming trend between Russia and Europe is a consequence of the ”restart” in the Russia-US relations  with a new US administration headed by Barack Obama.

According to Moshes, the U.S. and Russia launch a ”reset” or at least declare it. Washington and Moscow have something to show, starting with the treaty on nuclear weapons, but nothing like the European Union can demonstrate.

Negotiations on a new framework agreement, which should replace the Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation of 1994 and become the legal basis for relations between the EU and Russia, do not move very actively, Moshes said. The sides held eight or nine rounds, but there are no prospects of the date of signing yet. There is a desire to demonstrate progress in the Russian-European relations in this situation, he said.

Moreover, given the internal restructuring in the European bureaucracy and establishment of the European External Action Service, jobs of a number of people will depend on the ability to demonstrate negotiating ability, Moshes said.