Report: Selective Engagement between the EU and Russia

_ EUREN. Berlin, 23 October 2018.

Selective Engagement between the EU and Russia. EUREN Interim Report. October 2018. Berlin. 2018. – 11 p.


Four years after the fallout over Ukraine, rivalry and sanctions have become the ‘new normal’ between Russia and the EU. Both sides have become used to a state of affairs where relations are mired in inertia, and are currently both unable and unwilling to change the status quo.

This report is based on the results of discussions held by the EU–Russia Expert Network in 2017 and 2018. It states that, while EU–Russia relations will likely be characterized by negative dynamics for a long time to come, both sides need to acknowledge the losses and risks emanating from this situation. The report argues that both the EU and Russia need to leave their comfort zones if they want to change the negative dynamics underpinning their relationship. It suggests that they do so by proactively substantiating the term “selective engagement”, presented by the EU in its “five guiding principles” in 2016. The report suggests focusing, for the time being, on nine issues in three areas:

In the common but contested neigbourhood, the EU and Russia should support efforts to achieve a sustainable ceasefire in the Donbas war. A lasting end to armed hostilities is not only an important step towards the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, but also the precondition for any other measure that would bring the conflict closer to a solution. Russia and the EU should, furthermore, initiate two types of informal high-level dialogue: (a) between the EU, the EEU, and AA/DCFTA countries with the aim to generate new ideas on how to avoid further conflict between European and Eurasian integration, and (b) between the EU, the EEU, China and Central Asian countries about how to utilize the Belt and Road Initiative to foster connectivity and development across the region.

Russia and the EU should work towards safeguarding multilateralism wherever possible. In this area they should focus on rescuing the JCPOA, preserving its benefits for the remaining parties to the treaty and mitigating the crisis in US-Iranian relations. They must continue to explore finding a solution to the Syrian war, even though this issue will remain contested. They should explore less politicized areas of cooperation within the UN and the OSCE, such as climate change and the environment, global common goods, and economic connectivity, to create small but encouraging examples of successful cooperation.

In the area of EU–Russia bilateral relations, economic cooperation remains promising because economic interdependence and interests on both sides persist. Russia and the EU should, furthermore, create new spaces of societal interaction, and remove obstacles to mobility for each other’s citizens. Lastly, low-key expert dialogues on contentious issues should be (re)instated as a confidence- building measure.

At present, and probably for some time to come, selective engagement will be about managing the status quo and not allowing current conditions to deteriorate. By cautiously exploring the archipelago, the EU and Russia can, in the medium term, hope to discover and connect new islands of cooperation and, possibly, achieve more convergence in the long term.

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