New Agenda For Russia-EU Relations

_ Mark Entin, Editor-in-Chief of All Europe magazine, Professor at MGIMO-University; Ekaterina Entina, Associate Professor at National Research University Higher School of Economics. June 1st 2016.

Russia and the European Union are neighbours. Located on the same continent side by side, we share a common history and culture, and the same religious, philosophical and civilizational roots. We are building predominantly the same type of secular society based on a socially oriented economy and public representation.

Russians have decisively broken with the past division of the world into two opposing camps. We are no longer separated by the deepest insurmountable gap of antagonistically incompatible ideologies. The threat of nuclear war, on the brink of which we were balancing for some time, has been eliminated.

Russia and the EU follow similar strategic goals. Both sides strive for peace, stability, security, prosperity, sustainable development, high standards of living and happiness for their citizens.

This is an objective reality which is not dependent on wishes, claims, judgments or actual policies. Therefore, there are prerequisites to finding a positive solution to the disagreements between us, no matter how complex they may be. The disagreements do not belong to the higher order but relate to the methodology and tools of achieving strategic goals.

Nevertheless, bilateral relations are experiencing an unprecedented crisis. Attempts to resolve it are deadlocked and the way out is not visible, with significant time required to achieve it.

The crisis has a completely conscious, purely man-made character. It is caused by an unwillingness to seek mutually acceptable compromises that would suit both sides. Each decided that they had been too lenient, sacrificed too much to their own detriment and therefore, will not accept any more concessions.

Russia and the EU are still “playing a zero sum game”. In a number of vital areas, they have confrontational positions. If they are going to hold to these,examining and learning from past experiences and establishing what brings us together and divides us are futile.

This work makes sense only if we recognize the following:

  • Historically during the formation and implementation of policies relative to each other, both sides committed gross assessment and strategic errors;
  • The current situation does not suit us and we do not want the continuation of the policies that led to it;
  • Our aim is to improve the relationship, to make it viable and to rely on cooperation, not competition.

The choice of cooperation scenarios

Experts and politicians of both parties have been predominately discussing the following six options in accordance with which further developments can follow: –

  • Returning to a “strategic partnership” is firmly rejected by both sides, but it is understood differently. In Brussels it is believed that the renewal of “business as usual” would be an undeserved gift or dangerous concession to Moscow. Russia is convinced that the type of relationship that led to the conflict in and around Ukraine is not a “strategic partnership” as it infringed on Russian interests and hence a return to the “pseudo-partnership” should not be allowed.
  • The current type of “frozen relationship” may persist for some time, unless an EU country breaks the anti-Russian consensus in the near future. It is a situation of “neither war nor peace” and satisfies few people in Russia or EU. It would be absurd to retain what is detrimental to both sides under the guise of a “new normality”, although at the moment this approach is winning.
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany and the German establishment recently suggested maintaining relationships in a mixed mode of cooperation and competitionas a possible option. This option is extremely dangerous for Europe as it is fraught with a spontaneous slide into confrontation; competition, as long as it is officially legitimized, will always prevail over cooperation.
  • For its part, some experts in Moscow started talking about the parallel existence of Russia and the EU, which is also not desirable. This was experienced in the days of the Soviet Union and hopefully, coexistence remains a situation of the distant past. Furthermore, in the context of global interdependence it is now physically impossible.
  • The only reasonable and realistic paradigm is cooperation. The logic of cooperation should dominate. We need co-operation, even in areas where divergence of interests is very high. Then it will be possible to smooth them out and consequently, cooperation will be much more convincing.
  • No one wants to even contemplate the “Greater Europe” from Lisbon to Vladivostok and “integration of integrations” at the moment. Allegedly, such an option has been buried, at least for the foreseeable future. If we are slaves of events, rather than those who dictate them, there is no doubt about this. However, never say “never” and if we agree that after some time the situation may change, we must prevent taking action that may impede it. This is an imperative for Russian-EU relations.


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