June 27, 2013

Russia’s European Vector

For Russia other potential partners, meaning first and foremost Asia, will hardly be as close and predictable as Europe.

Russia and Europe have seen everything during their thousand years or more of common history, from cooperation to competition, and from fraternal assistance to betrayal, self-deception and cold-hearted calculation. But the European vector will continue to be among Russia’s chief foreign policy priorities, thanks to the cultural affinity and well-established economic ties.
For Russia other potential partners, meaning first and foremost Asia, will hardly be as close and predictable as Europe.
The European choice, for the majority of our people as well as the so-called “elite”, is a fact that Russia’s leadership has always had to pay attention to when formulating its foreign political and economic policy positions. Even with Russia’s rapidly changing domestic political conditions, and the likely repositioning of its foreign policy choices, it would be counterproductive to move away from Europe as a priority. And even though exaggerated expectations of what cooperation between Moscow and our European partners might yield have been disappointed, that cannot overshadow the real needs of society.
The importance of Asia to Russia should not be underrated, but we also need to recognise that Russia’s economic opportunities there along with its political engagement in the region are limited. In contrast, Russia’s dialogue with the European Union has already produced a number of comprehensive projects.
At a key meeting in Rostov-on-Don in mid-2010, the EU and Russia launched their Partnership for Modernisation. Since then, there has been active cooperation on a pan-European level within the EU’s science and technology framework programmes, and also nuclear energy and space among others. This is complemented by bi-lateral programmes with individual EU member states, for example with the Russian-German modernisation programme.
But things became significantly more difficult after Russia’s parliamentary and presidential elections in 2011-2012. Those elections, and the manner in which they were orchestrated, were received with much scepticism by parts of the Russian population and also abroad. They were widely interpreted as the sign of a stagnating regime and a retrograde step in the development of Russian society, and in its relations with the West. In Russia, liberals are unable to turn a blind eye to the centralisation of power under Vladimir Putin, his suppression of political opposition and the coupling of the state with the country’s major financial and industrial groups.
The high expectations held not very long ago for cooperation between Moscow and Brussels have not played out as hoped. However, the fatigue and disappointment felt by the elites today is nothing compared to the real needs of our countries and the attitudes of our peoples.
Effective integration of the post-Soviet space, which is much talked about nowadays in Moscow, is only possible if the existing and potential conflicts with the EU in CIS countries are overcome, if our interests in the region are aligned and if our cooperation is reinforced in the common cause of forming a common economic space from the Atlantic to the Russian Far East.
Recognising the imbalances in priorities and interests between Moscow and Brussels, it may be prudent to focus our efforts on those areas of technological and scientific cooperation which, on the one hand, do not involve politicised issues and, on the other hand, require substantial attention from government authorities, such as decentralisation and removal of bureaucratic hurdles.
Much depends on the agreeing and adoption of a new basic EU-Russia agreement, its substance and benchmarks. It is in the interest not only of Russia but also the EU to conclude the remaining work on this as quickly as possible.
It is important to note that the business communities of Russia and the European Union can and should play a role in ensuring the positive and stable development of our relations, in elevating them to a qualitatively new level – to a level at which such bold terms like “strategic partnership” would not be met with scepticism. Business communities should do more than simply provide their feedback on various government proposals; they should strive to establish channels for active and proactive engagement of government structures in Moscow and Brussels.
All of this would make it possible for relations between Russia and the European Union to move away from the current hibernation trajectory and to make our cooperation much more substantive, productive and once again very promising.


This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.

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