Geostrategic Tensions in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood: Are there winners?

kutsutilaisuus · At Wanha Satama, G Hall · 25.01.2016 14:00 - 16:00
  • kutsutilaisuus


It is now two years since the conflict over Ukraine triggered the ongoing deep crisis in Western-Russian relations. The fate of Ukraine and other countries in the shared neighbourhood of the EU and Russia remains vital for everyone involved, as it is closely connected to questions over the future shape of European security order. Developments in the region matter also for other major international players such as the US and to a lesser extent China. The seminar will explore the broader geostrategic context of the Ukraine crisis and discuss the perspectives of the US, Russia, EU, China and Ukraine. What are the goals of each actor and how do they pursue these goals? Are there winners in this conflict? Should we prepare for further escalation? What can be done to ease tensions?
Opening words: Teija Tiilikainen, Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Andrey Makarychev, Professor, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu

Kristi Raik
, Senior Research Fellow, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Yang Cheng, Associate Professor, East China Normal University, Shanghai

Oleksandr Sushko, Research Director, the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Kyiv

Chair: Sinikukka Saari, Senior Research Fellow, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Summary of the Seminar

Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs Teija Tiilikainen opened the event. She told that the aim of the event was to focus on how the Ukraine crisis has affected the European security architecture, and to the relations between the great powers.

Prof. Andrey Makarychev from Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu, looked at the concept of neighbourhood from a policy perspective. His presentation was an answer to two questions: how different are the neighbours from each other, and how differently Russia and the EU deal with the neighbourhood issues. He emphasized, that even though the eastern neighbourhood is diverse, nation building is something that describes all of the neighbours. While the EU is in a post-national, post-sovereign and post-modern stage in its politics, Russia seems to support traditionalist and conservative policies, spheres of influence and great power management, said Prof. Makarychev. Common neighbours of the EU and Russia face challenges while trying to integrate in one of the dominant poles. The EU sees its neighbours from a regionalist point of view, whereas Russia has more of a spheres of influence and geopolitics point of view. Prof. Makarychev said that we should expect our common neighbourhood to become more diversified, and their nation building can take different forms, some of which might not be in line with the EU’s expectations. He added that Russia has developed a hybrid form of neo-imperial policy to control people and territories, which is based on a geopolitical and biopolitical toolkit. Russia invests political and intellectual resources in creating new Russian realities, which follow the ideas of civilizational model, Eurasian Union doctrine, religious diplomacy, and holy Russia.

When asked whether different logics can be managed in a peaceful manner, Prof. Makarychev said that there will be a conflictual period between the EU and Russia. He thinks that geoeconomics are part of the biopolitical and geopolitical toolkit of Russia, but the situation evolves and is dependent on different factors, for example the domestic politics of Russia. He also said that Russia’s ambitions, goals and practices are not always clear.

While Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow from the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, was unable to participate in the seminar (his flight was cancelled due to snowstorm), Senior Research Fellow Sinikukka Saari from FIIA, read parts of his presentation. Mr Blank argued that the Obama administration has failed in its policy towards Europe, and it is partly responsible for economic stagnation, the migration crisis, and Russian aggression in Ukraine, which pose threats to the democratic governments of Europe. Mr Blank thinks that the U.S. has not ‘led from behind’ – it has been silent. Therefore Germany has been given the leadership, even though it is not capable of leading, according to Mr Blank. Ukraine should be assisted in integrating to the West, and the U.S. government should launch large-scale economic development and investment programmes in Europe.

Opening the panel discussion, Senior Research Fellow Kristi Raik from FIIA noted that the EU has never reached a consensus on its strategic goals regarding the eastern neighbourhood. The rhetoric of the EU now emphasizes the defence of our interests, while values have been downgraded. The EU lacks capabilities and competencies to address the security challenges in the region, and it has been reluctant to confront Russia. In addition, the western media often misreads developments in the eastern neighbourhood. For example the political crisis in Moldova is seen as a geopolitical conflict, even though the picture is more complex and people protest mainly against the oligarchic system and corruption, and demand for early elections, Dr Raik said. Russia has resisted the EU’s efforts to expand its normative order through economic integration. For example in 2003, the EU’s Wider Europe Initiative included Russia, but Russia objected, seeing it as a hegemonic project. Dr Raik emphasized the importance of sending clear messages. To the question about the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, she said that it is important above all politically and as a foreign policy choice of Ukraine.

Yang Cheng, Associate Professor from East China Normal University in Shanghai, sees Russia as a neo-imperial power to some extent in post-Soviet space. He noted that the EU is more of a normative power and Russia a more traditional power in the post-Soviet space, but Russia tries to act like a normative power. He said that China’s view of the Ukraine crisis has been misinterpreted, and it does not support the Russian policy in Crimea. The Ukraine crisis has affected the future of the Eurasian Economic Union, which no longer looks bright. He also noted, that low oil prices matter more than sanctions, as they undermine the legitimacy of Putin’s regime.

According to Research Director Oleksandr Sushko from the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, Europe thought that the new order and the independence of the post-Soviet countries were accepted by Russia, but in reality this was conditional and reversible. Russia has now adopted revisionism and taken a neo-imperial approach, and the crisis has taught us that we should not trust the papers when it comes to Russia. Mr Sushko emphasized that Russia does not recognize territorial integrity as a core principle of international order. Its main goal seems to be the dismantling of Ukraine and maybe also the EU. The best way the EU can help Ukraine is to survive and remain as a leader in this part of the world, Mr Sushko concluded.