The complex relations between the EU and Russia

Monday, 02 December 2013 07:38
Rate this item
(0 votes)



by Gregorio Baggiani
EPOS Insights


Over the last ten years or so, the fundamental relations of interdependence between the EU and the Russian Federation, set up as part of the 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) and renegotiated after 2008 as a consequence of the Caucasus crisis, have been characterized by upward phases and, more frequently, by periods of difficulty, often due to intransigence by some Eastern European States, Poland and the Baltic Nations in particular, or Russia itself.

This much has been witnessed during the meetings between the two parties, which have been taking place regularly. For the Russian Federation the European Union has become the most important political subject west of its borders, and issues between the two entities range from energy policy to regional cooperation, security,cultural and technological cooperation, as well as several other complex questions pertaining to international relations as a whole.

EU is fully aware of the importance of the relation with Russia, but also of the difficulties engrained in the relation because of the authoritarian path Russia chose for itself  with Putin’s third term in office. EU-Russia relations are not exclusively limited to a strategic partnership or to the partial Neighbourhood Policy, but are more articulate and complex, as they cover fields such as security, energetic policy, the global foreign policy involving the Balkans area, the Middle Eastern and Central Asian questions, for which Russian political and military cooperation can be vital.

Let us add to this already complex picture the question of technological cooperation, such as research in the aerospace sector, where the Russians have a long experience and have been cooperating with the European Space Agency for many years with a base in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. For both this also means trying to compete with the overwhelming power of the U.S. in the field of space and satellite technologies and in particular developing a European version of the U.S. GPS satellite navigation system. This would significantly reduce the excessive power of the U.S. in the communications field, something it obviously is not enthusiastic about.

EU authorities are trying to modify, through an intense dialogue, a certain Russian perception with the aim of proving that in the XXI century a country’s security needs must indeed be taken into consideration, but that dated concepts such as "area of influence" or "empire" are by no means acceptable. Though deeply rooted in the Russian collective conscience as centralistic and authoritarian entities, they must be replaced with effective international cooperation in the economic field and above all in that of security policy. This is particularly important in relation to the delicate Central Asian area, now in the limelight of the international scenario because of its extensive energy resources and because of the possible development of Muslim radicalism in the area.

Consider in particular Afghanistan, where Russian experience could be useful to NATO forces currently fighting in the country against the menacing revival of the Taleban phenomenon. From this point of view, Russia’s expertise at the level of analysis, academic too, and its capacity for military and political intervention in the area are precious to the European Union, which is probably inadequately prepared culturally to intervene efficiently in those areas of the world, so distant from Europe historically and in terms of mentality.

For the moment being, Putin’s bureaucratic-authoritarian model has therefore guaranteed the nation short and medium-term stability and economic growth, but it has at the same time slowed down necessary economic and institutional reforms, thus representing in the long-term an obstacle to the further economic, and above all social, development of the country. Beyond energy resources, what makes a country economically efficient is the certainty that legal rights are respected and guaranteed by a well-structured and functioning legal framework that does not allow excessive discretionary powers to the political or bureaucratic power. The Soviet experience shows that political power tends to reduce the legal framework to a minimum so as to operate as freely as possible without any obstacles placed by institutional forces that may question its decisions.

And this tendency, albeit in a very different framework, continues to carry out its devastating effects. When a legal framework in not well-structured, economic activity cannot reach its potential, and consequently civil society evolves very slowly where the certainty of legal rights is weak and the certainty of a political apparatus that essentially perpetuates itself by internal co-optation rather than through free elections holding on to power is strong.

This socio-political structure has remained essentially unchanged in time, also thanks to the presence of these immense energy resources, which paradoxically end up representing an obstacle to any further transformation of the country in the modern sense. This highlights the difference with the political conception of the EU, centred around the rule of the law rather than around the personality of elite who possesses institutional power, thus appears dramatically obvious and fails not to cause puzzlement and sometimes mutual bewilderment, because the political cultures of the two interlocutors are completely different, if not antithetical.

The historical phases of the two entities are marked by strong contrasts, and this will need to be taken into account in the development phases of European policies towards Russia, which will have to be based on a possible medium and long-term convergence of interests, favouring inclusion processes, such as Russia’s effective inclusion into the WTO, rather than sanctions and exclusion, which generally do not lead to the effects the international community desires, but instead to propaganda at home, in the sense "an image of the enemy", causing a further slowing down of necessary internal reforms in the field of civil and especially economic  law.


This is an abstract of a Research Paper realized by Gregorio Baggiani you can find clicking here

Gregorio Baggiani is a contributor of "Il Mulino" - online edition- since 2009; scientific collaborator of the Professorship  of History of International  and Eastern Europe Relations at the University of "Roma Tre"; OSCE electoral observer for the Italian Foreign Office

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 December 2013 06:55
Login to post comments
Epos Audio Playlist
Open in new window
Epos Suggested Links