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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Monday, 21.01.2019, 22:57

The Russia-EU crisis: lessons from the recent past

Nadia Alexandrova-Arbatova, Head Department on European Political Studies Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations Russian Academy of Sciences, Baltic Rim Economies, ISSUE 4, 06.02.2018.Print version
There have been many ups and downs in the Russia-EU relations within the last 25 years but in 2014 they have entered a new particularly difficult phase with the clash of two differing regional strategies - Brussels’ Eastern Partnership and Moscow’s Eurasia Union concept. Ukraine has been central to both strategies, and “the either/or” choice presented to Kiev ultimately made a conflict inevitable.

The conflict in Ukraine and over Ukraine has resulted in the suspension of the Russia-EU negotiations on a new Strategic Partnership, sanctions wars ending bilateral cooperation, and extremely hostile rhetoric that gains its own momentum. Although Russia’s incorporation of Crimea is widely perceived in Brussels as a turning point in the Russia-EU relations, the real roots of the conflict are much deeper being related to the uneven end of bipolarity and uneven demise of the USSR. The former did not result in any Peace conference on a new post-bipolar world order and common rules of behaviour.


The Paris Charter and the Budapest memorandum were adopted in November 1990 when the USSR still existed. With all good ideas Gorbachev never intended to change the bipolar world order and wanted to preserve two distinct social systems, one capitalist and one socialist. He intended simply for a new détente to end Cold war tensions. The end of the bipolarity was embodied in the collapse of the USSR. In the post-bipolar time international actors started to apply the Helsinki principles selectively according to their foreign policy interests and preferences. No doubt, Russia and the West have very different views on the question “who first violated the status quo in the post-bipolar world order” and it is impossible to reduce these differing views to a common denominator.


The EU (and the West at large) sees the recognition of Kosovo’s independence as an exception, while Russia sees it as a precedent. For this reason Kremlin proceeds from the understanding that if the West can interpret the international norms as it wants then Russia can do the same. The demise of the USSR was also uneven because it was dissolved with a stroke of a pen overnight without any serious negotiations between Russia and NIS on the problems of the Soviet legacy – economic relations, Russian speaking minorities, territorial borders and etc. Russia made its fair share of policy mistakes in the post-Soviet area during the 1990s. Russia’s post-Soviet euphoria was replaced with a sense of loss of empire and status of world super power equal to the US. These post-imperial syndromes resulted in the Kremlin’s policy of reassembling the CIS neighbours under the aegis “special relations” with Russia.


However, Russia’s neighbours were not just innocent victims. They did not understand that independence is a costly thing. Half-heartedly they accepted the model offered by Moscow because it was very difficult to resist cheap oil and gas Nadia AlexandrovaArbatova Head Department on European Political Studies Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations Russian Academy of Sciences Russia Email: provided by Russia. It was the worst possible model of relationship - dependence on Russia and the growing dissatisfaction with this dependence. And in the end of the day this dichotomy resulted in the emergence of GUAM coalition (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) as a counterweight to Russia’s domination in the CIS. When the problem of the Soviet Union’s nuclear legacy was solved, the EU and the West as a whole became obsessed with the prospect of a new Russian empire. They saw the separation of Russia from its CIS partners as a guarantee that the USSR would never be brought back to life. And this principle was put at the centre of the EU and NATO regional strategies that unavoidably bypassing Russia.


However proponents of this view could not envision that these strategies would much sooner make Russia estrange itself from the West, adopt the stance of selfassertiveness, pivot to Asia and revival of “historic national values”. How to get out of this vicious circle? It looks that the future of the Russia-EU relations as well as the genuine post-bipolar order will completely depend on how they will come out of the Ukrainian conflict. Peace in Ukraine is central to stability and security in Wider Europe. From this point of view President Putin’s idea of deploying a U.N. contingent along the line of contact in Donbas could become the first step toward ending the crisis and hopefully toward building a new post-bipolar world order. The differences between Russia, Ukraine and the EU on the format of a peacekeeping operation should be at the centre of their negotiations. But if this operation takes place in Ukraine it would be the first international peacekeeping operation in the post-Soviet space.. The importance of this fact should not be underestimated.

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