Reports on serious changes taking place in the global geopolitics have been spreading for some time. The development dynamics of the EU-Russia relationship is the most interesting among them. The EU-Russia summit in Brussels has been held recently. The most interesting thing for experts was the parties` failure to reach an agreement on a number of issues. There is the need to ponder over which direction the relationship between the two great powers is going to develop. It is necessary to take into account a number of geopolitical, cultural and economic factors.
Moscow`s U-turn: Is Europe turning into “home front”?
Serious changes are taking place in Russia`s Europe policy. By and large, Moscow reconsiders its principles of building relations with the European Union. In as early as 2010, “Towards an Alliance of Europe” analytical report by the Russian group of the Valdai International Discussion Club was presented for discussions of analysts, politicians and diplomats. The main point is that it underlines the time has come for a “transformation of the paradigm of overstated optimistic expectations to the pragmatic interaction” (see: Тимофей Бордачев, Татьяна Романова. Как сделать Европу надежным тылом / “Россия в глобальной политике”, 16 December 2013). The meat of the issue is associated with the trends to provide substance to Russia`s relations with Europe to a wide extent. In experts` judgment, Russia must favor constructive cooperation with Europe rather than integration for the first time in 300 years. However, Moscow should not think of giving up European values. Russian experts believe that Europe must become a “reliable home front” of Moscow (see: previous source). This aspect is very interesting in geopolitical aspect.
What is the meaning of the “home front”? Moscow diverts its attention to the Far East. Development of Siberia and Vladivostok is strategically important. But Russia understands that it is impossible to achieve sustainable development in these areas on its own. It expects Europe`s support in this case. It needs Brussels`s favour with respect to technologies and training of specialists in the first place. What can Moscow offer in exchange?
Although the answer to this question has not been found, Russia hints at the energy field. By making quality changes in oil and gas transportation to Europe it is possible to ensure mutual interests. The problem is, however, not limited to this problem only. Moscow is, under no circumstances, willing to give up its ambitions in the geopolitical area located in its traditional sphere of influence. We have to confess that this issue is to blame for contradictions between the EU and Russia. It is interesting that western experts believe that the USA and Europe will not pile too much pressure on Russia! On the other hand, the people of post-Soviet states do not wish to cut ties with Russia. Expert Thomas De Waal is openly commenting on this. (see: Thomas de Waal. EU should Risk More to End Eastern Europe’s Limbo / “Bloomberg”, 27 January 2014). Even though Georgians and Moldavians favour European integration, they are also interested in maintaining relations with Russia. There are many Georgians and Moldavians among those working in Russia.
Nevertheless, some contradictory problems emerged between the EU and Russia. Germany’s Deutsche Welle split them into five groups. First, struggle for influence in the post-soviet area. Second, the visa issue. Third, absence of the new framework agreement. Fourth, absence of the agreement on the Trans-Siberian transport route. Fifth, provision of information about air passengers (see: Пять самых спорных вопросов в отношениях Евросоюза и России / “Dw.de”, 27 January 2014). The latest EU-Russia summit proved the existence of the above-mentioned problems.
The Brussels summit: an event, which did not solve problems
First and foremost, it is necessary to say that the European Union changed the format of the event because of the Ukraine issue. Not all the issues on the agenda were discussed. Some issues were withdrawn. The attention mainly focused on renewing the basic agreement which expired in 2007 (see:Саммит Россия-ЕС открывается в Брюсселе / “РИА Новости”, 28 January2014). However, the parties failed to come to the agreement on the issue. What is the reason?
The European Union has a serous rebuke against Russia over the Ukraine matter. Brussels does not accept any foreign pressure on Kyiv. At the press-conference on the results of the EU-Russia summit, President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy openly called for “an end to violence in Ukraine” (see: В Брюсселе завершился саммит ЕС-Россия / “Радио Свобода”, 28 January 2014). Moreover, experts believe that discrepancies on more global issues exist between Brussels and Moscow. The parties`s positions on the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia are different.
In the light of these developments, a proposal made by Putin to the EU officials had a shocking effect. The Russian President mentioned at the summit the possibility of creation of the free trade zone between the European Union and Eurasian Economic Union (Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus), (see: Итоги Саммита Россия-ЕС: Путин построил “потемкинскую деревню”, а что Европа? / “1in.am”, 29 January 2014). Senior specialist of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Prof. Lilia Shevtsov described this proposal as a “strong maneuver” (see: the previous source). How can the two unions with different organizational and operation principles as well as economic potential create the free trade zone? According to experts, European politicians will be thinking for some time of what Putin wanted to say.
It appears that discrepancies between the EU and Russia on the matters of principle are continuing. In general, Moscow`s strategic stance towards Europe becomes different. It portrays itself not as part of Europe but as a strong state, which is a would-be alternative with the different cultural values but always ready for dialogue. The Kremlin offers a new integration model on this basis. In fact, Moscow favours existence of the two big organizations in Eurasia – the European Union and Eurasian Union.
The EU tries to continue its traditional “normative expansion” against Russia`s policy. It means in cooperation with other countries, Europe refers to its own principles and criteria. They are of course different positions in terms of the substance and purpose. The time will tell which side will be a winner. However, it is possible today to forecast the competition to be continued between them.
We believe Moscow`s efforts to make Europe “a reliable home front” is thought-provoking because it is not clear why the EU must accept it. For instance, why must Europe help Russia in training of highly-qualified personnel to work in Siberia? The first thing that can come on one`s mind is the China factor. The Europeans are cautious of China`s development. They might be interested in stopping the Chinese in either Russia or Central Asia. But what are the benefits of creating such a historical rival as Russia? Brussels and Washington are likely to deliberate on it.
All these factors show that the EU-Russia relationship is not limited to the Ukraine developments only. The other way round, things can change in a way that the two great geopolitical powers could use this country in bartering. More concretely, Europe and Russia are competing in the aspect of strategic choice. This is of historical nature and can give rise to serious changes in the geopolitical space. Against this backdrop, the dynamics of competition for the global leadership could have new shades.