Russia’s Dialogue With the EU Is Coming to an End

Sergei Lavrov's recent comments on the EU may sound extreme, but they were a long time in the making

“The focus that Russia has had on Europe and West for the past 300 years no longer corresponds to the global reality”

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, warning that Russia might halt all dialogue with the European Union. Mr. Lavrov offered no explanation for what was probably the most severe public statement on the EU of his career. Perhaps he was reacting to extended talks he recently held with EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell — talks that, by all appearances, did not go well.

Naturally, the EU will respond to his statement with great displeasure and indignation, but Lavrov’s comment was actually rooted in a process that began long before the current crisis, all the way back to when Russian-EU relations looked positively upbeat and promising.

Common, but shaky ground

The modern Russian state and the EU came into existence at practically the same time — the former in late December 1991 and the latter in February 1992 — and they soon laid the groundwork for their mutual relations.  The two parties signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement in 1994 — and ratified it in 1997 — that made their relations so close as to be considered “strategic” at one point.

This differs significantly from the slogan of a “Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok” that former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev coined in 1989 to connote a common European homeland that, in reality, had no document or agreement to back it up.

By contrast, the Russian-EU partnership was based firmly on the idea of integration. While Brussels never offered Russia full EU membership, it offered general, though indefinite assurances that its eastern neighbor would play a suitably substantial role in the “Greater Europe” that was then being built.

At the core of this “Greater Europe,” as it was then envisioned, was a rapidly expanding European Union that wound up more than doubling in size from 1992 to 2007 — and which, it was expected, would eventually include Russia as well as other Soviet republics. A sort of pan-European space was created, although Russia’s status in that new entity was never described or even discussed. Both sides simply assumed that Russia would be part of Europe.

In hindsight, it seems that Russia and the EU understood that partnership differently.

However, they agreed at the time that everything from the structure of the state to economic regulation should be based on the legal and regulatory framework of the EU — which they both considered clearly superior. Ideally, every country that was included in that European space would have adopted European rules and regulations, after which they would either become EU members — some, strictly due to their size — or else, as in the case of Russia and Ukraine, associate members. Every newcomer was expected to bring its laws and regulations into line with the European standard.

And in this regard, it differed fundamentally from Gorbachev’s idea of a “Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.” Although the Soviet leader did not offer any details regarding the pan-European homeland, he clearly anticipated a partnership of equals.

The Soviet leader looked to a coming convergence, a mutual rapprochement in which each player — the Soviet Union, the European Community and the West as a whole — would contribute their strongest qualities, each somehow coming together in a whole that was more than the sum of its parts. In was, in a word, utopia, but not a tenable plan.

Significantly, it was not former President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s who made the greatest efforts to achieve Russia’s integration into the European space based on European principles, but President Vladimir Putin during his first term in the early 2000s.

Yeltsin had to overcome Russia’s internal crisis before there could be any talk of integrating with Europe. By the 2000s, when the state and its apparatus had stabilized and oil revenues filled government coffers, Putin searched diligently for an opportunity to implement the partnership with the EU and to further rapprochement. This continued from 2001 until as late as 2006.

The honeymoon had ended

Russia’s potential had grown significantly by that time, as had its expectations for the role it would play in a partnership with the EU.

Russia rejected as illegitimate the expectation that it comply unquestionably with European norms and felt that any partnership must be based, if not on strictly equal terms, then at least on special conditions. However, the EU never even considered Russia a special case, arguing that any reconsideration of its rules violated the very principles of European integration.

For this reason, the very idea of a strategic and integration partnership between Russia and the EU began eroding around the mid-2000s. This erosion occurred very gradually, not only because Russia’s domestic and foreign policy had begun to change significantly, but also because the EU unexpectedly faced a crisis, one that reached full force in the early 2010s.

By that time, although the partnership agreement first drawn up in the early 1990s remained unchanged — as it does today — the reality of Russia’s relationship with Europe increasingly diverged from its original configuration. Both sides’ objectives and, more importantly, their self-perceptions, grew further and further apart.

The most striking illustration of this was the obvious disconnect between the words spoken at the final Russia-EU Summit, held in Brussels in late January 2014, and the reality on the ground.

The Maidan protests were raging in Kiev, only three weeks remained before Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych would flee and new authorities would come to power, and relations between Russia and the EU — that stood on opposite sides of those barricades in Kiev — could not have been worse.

While President Putin and EU Commission President Manuel Barroso stood before the cameras and repeated the very same mantras they had been uttering for years, even decades, about partnership, a common space, road maps and so on, their faces betrayed what they were really thinking — namely, that nothing of the sort was going to happen.

But they had no other options on the table. Pure inertia from the process begun in the early 1990s compelled them to repeat the same tired calls for a close future partnership.

Then came the game-changing events in Ukraine, and much more besides. The long-standing framework for Russian-EU relations turned into an anachronism overnight, giving way to heated antagonism and competitiveness. Nevertheless, both sides continued paying lip service to partnership, dialogue and, in general, a state of affairs that had last existed 25 years earlier.

Fast forward to the present, and we have Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indirectly acknowledging how bad things have actually become. In effect, he has simply stated what everyone already knew — namely, that the old framework for Russian-EU relations no longer exists.

This does not mean an end to all relations, only an end to relations as they were.

The same, only different

A new framework is needed now, but it will probably be a long time in coming. And the framework Russia might want for its relations with Europe will not materialize for the very reasons mentioned above: present circumstances are simply too unfavorable.

Of course, no new Iron Curtain between Russia and the EU will fall from the sky. Their mutual humanitarian and economic relations remain very strong, despite some damage from sanctions, and cultural and even political ties remain intact. However, these are strictly utilitarian relations, without any pretense of common goals, and they take a backseat to Moscow’s bilateral relations with individual European countries. Russia and Europe are devolving into coolly polite neighbors that have no real interest in each other, but who are forced to interact simply because they live next door to each other.

In fact, Russia must now focus more on its main neighbor, China. Although Russia’s quarrel with the West plays some role in this pivot eastward, it is the enormously long Russian-Chinese border and the fact that China is rapidly becoming, if not a world hegemon, then at least one of the two pillars of the new world order that compels Moscow to devote far more attention to this neighbor than it is accustomed to.

More importantly, and what will cause fundamental change to Russia’s relations with Europe, is the fact that, for better or worse, the global balance is shifting towards Asia.

As a result, the focus that Russia has had on Europe and West for the past 300 years no longer corresponds to the global reality. Russia cannot afford to treat Asia as a secondary priority, although it often still does. If Moscow continues in this way, Russia could find itself facing a creeping expansionism from the east.

In any case, Russia’s former model of relations with the European Union has clearly ceased to function, and one way or another, the two sides have started to acknowledge this openly.

Source: The Moscow Times

  1. Bob says

    Too bad. I kind of liked the ol’ fella.

  2. cechas vodobenikov says

    Russia lost any confidence in the anglo/west Europe colonies 3 decades ago; trade will continue to Russian benefit. otherwise politics will be a game played only for appearances

  3. cap960 says

    It’s about time…Hopeless case EU will never be free from the Yanks. It’s better for Russia to move to new pastures.

  4. Udo Bauer says

    Marko using the Swedish propaganda organ Moscow Times as a “source” again.No learning curve. Lavrov in fact made very clear the multiple reasons for ending any talk with EU. It’s over, and so is the EU.

  5. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

    What kind of strategic relationship could exist between European members of NATO and Russia?

  6. Bert says

    Maybe partly because the EU structure seems to be coming apart at the seams…Maybe European countries will reorganize and do something different, maybe start printing their own money again, having border checkpoints, maintaining their own militaries, things like that. The EU kinda worked, for a while, that was then, this is now. When they get their collective west European ship in one sock again, then they can do the Russia-meeting-thing…maybe it was good to get ship off by the Russian foreign minister, maybe it’ll wake em up. Trump 2020

  7. pogohere says

    Dr Glenn Diesen’s Russia’s Geoeconomic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia (Rethinking Asia and International Relations) is worth a read.

  8. thomas malthaus says

    Europe doesn’t act independently unless Washington releases the leash. When has that happened in recent years?

    Those more familiar with the European Union, its bureaucratic layers, and its singular currency (euro) recognize a dead system looking to extend its false viability.

    Nord Stream I and II may be the last public-private infrastructure projects the Russians will ever engage with European entities.

    It will be interesting to see how a global depression accompanied by hyperinflation will affect energy flows.

    1. Saint Jimmy (Russian American) says

      Ten to 12 years ago, I was sitting in a meeting of 8 to 10 people discussing a draft report (I won’t disclose the organization issuing the report.). The draft discussed EU policy on a certain issue. I don’t know what possessed me, other than the fact that I was tired and didn’t want to be in DC, but I mentioned that the EU was weakening and that in 10 years, or so, the EU would begin to dissolve and would be non-existent in 20 years. I got blank stares for several seconds before someone uttered “Huh…” and changed the subject. At the time, I was fairly sure I was right but wished I hadn’t just blurted that out. In retrospect, I feel like a prophet.

      1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

        The same thing might happen to the United States in the much nearer term.

      2. Kapricorn4 says

        The EU worked quite well until each country (except the UK) gave away their sovereignty by adopting the privatized Euro currency that is created by the banks as debt, such that:
        No debts = no money

        That was the coup de grace

        1. Saint Jimmy (Russian American) says

          I also saw lots of problems coordinating policy and push back against standardization.

      3. itchyvet says

        The problem with the European Union is the fact that if the Union has succeeded, it’s GPD would have left the U.S.’s in the dust. Study your history, every time such a situation occurred, there were WARS ensuring such a level was never reached. The Brits did the same to Germany, that’s why we had WW 1. However, the crafty germans managed to recover and still posed a threat to eclipse the Birts in short order. Again the world was plunged into war, and this time around, Germany’s manufacturing capabilities were STOLEN by the Brits. Americans and Russians. Legislation imposed upon the Germans ensured they’d never be able to recover. But Germans being Germans, actually regained their abilities to regain what they had lost to such an extent they reffered to today as the engine room of Europe. The Americans would never allow the European Union to ever eclipse the U.S. in manufacturing abilities, despite the fact they were bust flogging off everything that wasn’t nailed down to the Chinese to increase their profits. Now the threat comes from China, not Europe which is basicly dead in the water. However, this time around, the Americans have nothing to offer anyone to jump on board their band wagon, except the stupid Australians who always throw the baby out with it’s bath water and never realise what they’ve done until it’s too late. IMHO, for what it’s worth, I believe the Russians need to focus on Asia, turn their backs on Europe, because Europe will never accept them as equals. For crying out loud, many European nations still think they are the exceptional people and their neighbors are primitive idiots, especially when it comes to the Baltics.

    2. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

      The leash will disappear when the petrodollar fails and SWIFT goes quiet, shortly.

  9. plamenpetkov says

    BS. Russia simply got played by the dishonest Europeans once again.

    Russia was promised no new NATO expansion. NATO gobbled up all of the former Soviet Block countries who happily changed one master for another and willingly sold themselves to the West, the prostitutes they are. That should have been a sign. But NO, Russia desperately also wanted to be part of the Big Boys club too, so it didn’t say anything.

    Then when Putin came on board and STOPPED the robbing of Russia, the writing was on the wall, but Russia once again was naive since it wanted a place at the Big Boys table. Once Putin began asserting himself, it was all over. Yet Russia continued behaving as if everything was A-OK.

    With Ukraine and Georgia wars, Russia should have changed course but it didn’t. the EU put sanctions on Russia, yet Russia continued behaving as if EU was its pal. It wasn’t. EU was kicking Russia in the face, yet Russia was behaving as if nothing was wrong.

    As usual, Russia is slow and clumsy at responding. Maybe, finally, Russia now understands how nasty, dishonest and jealous the Big Boys really are and how they don’t want her, just her resources. Zero Sum game, Russia, Zero Sum game. You wont be allowed to win cuz they will lose.

    1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

      Russia is just spreading its wings so it can take off after SWIFT disappears.

    2. cechas vodobenikov says

      confused–an amerikan I surmise

  10. Saint Jimmy (Russian American) says

    Nordstream is going to be completed. Big Business and most citizens in Germany and the EU want it to be completed for very practical reasons.

    The US has hurt itself diplomatically by attempting to dictate business and economic policies to Germany and other European countries. However, that is what Empires do. They DICTATE policies to their subject peoples.

    Germany may FINALLY be growing a new pair of testicles.

    1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

      Germany would be a much colder place in the winter without Nordstream (sic).

    2. itchyvet says

      IMHO, that would be a pleasant surprise.

    3. cap960 says

      As long as the Yank occupiers are there Germany will do as told…or else.

      1. Saint Jimmy (Russian American) says

        I’m not so sure about that, any more. People are sick of our rude, fat asses.

        1. itchyvet says

          There’s a reason Germany is still today occupied and it’s not to protect them from outside aggression.

          1. Saint Jimmy (Russian American) says

            We make decisions about our energy policy and energy supply here – in Europe.

            ~ Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister


      2. Bob says

        Germany will do as told as long as the nukes are pointed to Berlin, Hamburg, etc.

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