From Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 4, 2021, Complete text:
The recent discussion in the European Parliament of a report on European Union-Russia relations prepared by Lithuanian parliamentarian Andrius Kubilius [see Vol. 73, No. 38‑39, pp. 3‑6] has brought virtually nothing new to bilateral relations except an escalation of rhetoric and measures to contain the Russian threat. The report also calls for EU leadership to develop a comprehensive Russia strategy, although such a strategy had already been formally presented in June  at a Council of Europe summit [see Vol. 73, No. 27, pp. 19‑20].
“We have to push back, we have to constrain (Russia – Ed.), and we have to engage (with it – Ed.) at the same time,” said the [EU] High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. Borrell’s multivector triad unwittingly evokes associations with a famous fable about a swan, a crab and a pike who failed to move a heavy weight because they were moving in different directions.
The constant calls from European politicians to decide on a common strategy on Russia are evidence that so far the EU has only disparate principles concerning Russia, but it has not defined a long-term goal. The September meeting between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Josep Borrell on the sidelines of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in New York not only failed to bring the parties closer together, but also added a new reason for mutual irritation – the EU’s dissatisfaction with Russia’s actions in Africa [see Vol. 73, No. 40, pp. 3‑7].
Hindsight suggests that the EU’s “original sin” regarding Russia, like that of NATO, is the lack of a clear vision of Russia’s place in post-[cold war] Europe. While the end of the bilateral confrontation between the USSR and the West caused euphoria in Russia about its entry into the civilized world, in Europe it prompted a sigh of relief – “we can finally get on with the job.” The “job” means the accelerated process of integrating post-communist Europe into the West’s main integration associations – the EU and NATO, or, more precisely, NATO and the EU. First, candidates for EU accession had to become part of the West’s security system; only then could they join the EU. Brussels’s declared complementarity between NATO and EU enlargement became an unwritten condition for post-communist – or “new” – Europe, and subsequently a cause for Russia’s suspicions regarding the West’s plans for the CIS space. The EU began membership negotiations – the so-called EU agreements – with Central and Eastern European countries; and for the countries that arose from the rubble of the Yugoslavian empire, [negotiations centered on] stabilization agreements and associations that did not exclude their membership in the EU if they met a number of criteria.
Post-Soviet Russia was offered a different format for cooperation with the EU: the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which was adopted in 1997 for a 10-year term. It was the first full-scale legal act that laid the foundations for Russia’s equal relations with the West. However, the PCA was the lowest format for EU cooperation with third countries. By the time the PCA expired, it was already clear that the actual cooperation between Russia and the EU had outgrown its scope. As important as the agreement was, the biggest drawback of the PCA was that it left the ultimate goal of Russia-EU cooperation unclear. Putting the PCA aside, the idea of incorporating Russia into Greater Europe was popular in liberal European circles. However, neither the EU nor Russia had a clear concept of the goals and substance of this initiative.
The lack of strategic vision can also be seen in the strategies the EU and Russia adopted regarding each other in 1999. The crisis in Europe following NATO’s strikes on Yugoslavia prompted the EU to maintain its level of cooperation with Russia by adopting policy documents that no one even remembers today. Comprised of a list of good intentions, as right as they were useless, these strategies did not shed light on the ultimate goals of Russia-EU cooperation and partnership.
However, in the recent history of relations between Russia and the EU, there are two broad initiatives that have offered hope for a qualitative shift. The first was the St. Petersburg initiative to create four common spaces in economics; domestic security; external security; and science, education and culture, which was formulated at the EU-Russia summit in May 2003. As a breakthrough idea that can really give Russia-EU relations strategic potential (bypassing the issue of Russian membership in the EU, which is difficult for both sides), the initiative of the four common spaces was the basis for the negotiation of a new strategic partnership treaty.
The second was the partnership for modernization launched at the EU-Russia summit in Rostov-on-Don from May 31 to June 1, 2010 – the concept of comprehensive democratization of Russia’s economic, social and political life as the basis for close long-term cooperation with the West. Both initiatives have remained unfulfilled. Negotiations on a new agreement were frozen after the Crimea joined Russia, and the partnership for modernization was reduced to narrow technical projects (pinpoint modernization) or megaprojects like [the tech and education complex at] Skolkovo.
In talking about these initiatives, it would be unfair to put the blame for their failure solely on the EU. Russia-EU rivalry in the CIS and mutual suspicions have rattled the four common spaces project, which bypassed the question of how CIS countries would fit into these common spaces. [The problem] is not only Brussels, but also Moscow, which has avoided discussing the issue with the EU about an area of Russian “privileged interests.”
Regarding the partnership for modernization projects, some in the EU expert community had doubts about their implementation from the outset. In particular, German economist Katinka Barysch noted that the impact of such projects on the Russian economy as a whole would be limited as long as “competition is restricted and successful companies must fear kleptocratic officials.”In addition, the Russian leadership decided in 2012 that Russia should modernize its economy not by relying on European technological innovation, but by adopting a new industrialization plan based on modern [Russian] technologies and the Eurasian Economic Union. This was a conscious departure from the European modernization path, which Russia considered unpromising for the development model it had adopted.
Escalating tensions over Ukraine after the Crimea’s annexation by Russia led to almost all practical cooperation between Russia and the EU being curtailed, and to the mutual sanctions war, which hurt not only economic ties but also political relations. Negotiations on a new strategic partnership treaty between Russia and the EU have been frozen, and Russia-EU summits have been cancelled. In the West, the dismantled basis of bilateral cooperation has been replaced by numerous “principles of relations with Russia.”
How to build relations with a Russia that does not meet European political perceptions of democracy, and which is perceived as a threat to European security and a source of numerous problems? The question is far from hypothetical for EU leadership, which cannot escape the prevailing paradigm of containment/pushback and selective cooperation.
The Kubilius report, adopted by a majority of European parliamentarians, called for broader and tougher sanctions against Russia. However, the main question is how far the consequences of tightening anti-Russian sanctions have been calculated, since the economic sanctions already imposed have not led to the result the EU expected. It is highly likely that further pressure on Russia will only lead to increased confrontation and a worsening of the domestic political situation, further intensifying anti-Western sentiment and nationalist forces in Russian society. That is unlikely to provide the support for democracy in Russia announced in the report.
The growing ideological and political confrontation between Russia and the West has prompted some European politicians to talk about a policy of peaceful coexistence with Russia. Emotionally, such remarks cannot fail to provoke a rejection, because it is very difficult to acknowledge that we have returned to the days of the cold war after 30 years. However, with the rapid deterioration of Russia-EU/West relations and the threat of large-scale war in Europe, the policy of peaceful coexistence no longer seems absurd. The main goal of peaceful coexistence was to prevent military conflict between East and West. It is this goal that should also now underpin both the EU’s new strategy on Russia, as well as Russia’s approach to engagement with the EU.
Past experience has shown that the policy of peaceful coexistence alone does not preclude the possibility of a military clash. In modern circumstances, however, it is difficult to imagine planned military aggression by either party. Even so, a military clash might happen because of incidents at sea and in the air, border incidents or escalations of local conflicts. In order to prevent this development, the parties should clearly mark their red lines and inform each other of where they are drawn.
A policy of peaceful coexistence rejects interference in each other’s domestic affairs and recognizes the right of every people to freely choose their own socioeconomic and political order. Technological interference in electoral processes or attempts to change the political system from outside are not acceptable in the context of peaceful coexistence. However, the principle of noninterference does not preclude mutual criticism, advocacy and transparency. In other words, peaceful coexistence, which finally emerged in the 1970s, is not a linear relationship, but a wide range of different patterns of relationships from detachment to close cooperation in economics, politics and arms control. Of course, this is not what we had hoped for when we ended the cold war, but no one expected a new cold war until a few years ago. In these circumstances, peaceful coexistence has again become an appropriate choice. As the Chinese strategist and thinker Sun Tzu said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest path to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”