Russia doesn’t like it

It’s the Eastern Partnership of European Union. EU launched this project on 7 May and involved countries are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Questions:

1. EU wants to establish a sphere of influence and dividing lines in Europe. With these words criticized Russia the Eastern partnership program of EU. It is usual for Moscow to attack NATO but not cooperation initiatives of Brussels. Why now it is different and why with relatively vague program as is the Eastern partnership?

2. Do you think Russia is willing to take concrete steps to spoil this program? If yes, what kind of steps and would you say Moscow can rely on some help from inside of the EU?

Dominik Tolksdorf, Research Fellow at the Center for Applied Policy Research, University of Munich

1. It seems that it has lately become a usual pattern of the Russian administration to criticize the Western states with relatively harsh words, and it is not clear if the Russian government still differentiates between NATO and the EU but rather regards both organisations as the WEST. Although the EU-Russian relations have for different reasons (Kosovo, Georgia etc.) become strained in the past, I do not believe that the Eastern Partnership will significantly contribute to increasing tensions between Russia and the EU. The Russian government is concerned because the Eastern Partnership more strongly than the European Neighbourhood Policy focuses on political issues in the Eastern neighbourhood, which Russia still regards as its sphere of influence or at least as a buffer zone dominated by Moscow. But the Russian government will have to understand that also the EU has specific interests. Both partners will simply have to find ways for cooperation in the common neighbourhood. In my view, Russia should therefore be stronger included in projects of the Eastern Partnership. This might also develop into a cooperation that is able to address more sensitive issues in the future, for example frozen conflicts in the neighbourhood.

2. I don’t think that the Russian government is willing to completely confront the EU by spoiling the Eastern Partnership. It has never really been concerned about the European Neighbourhood Policy, and it will also realize that the Eastern Partnership in its current configuration is still a rather technical Commission instrument. Although there are some governments within the EU that are certainly closer to Russia than other member states, there is no Trojan horse for Moscow within the Union. Even though Germany and France often try to accommodate Russia on different issues, both are at the same time strong supporters of a common European foreign policy that also support EU initiatives such as the Eastern Partnership.

Margot Light, Professor Emeritus, Department of International Relations & Centre for Global Governance, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

1. Russian attitudes to the EU have become much more negative since the former socialist Eastern European became members because they influence the EU against Russia (according to Russians). Another reason is that Russians believe that the EU instigated the ‘colour revolutions’. There are a number of reasons why the Eastern Partnership is likely to complicate the EU’s relations with Russia. First, it is aimed at increasing EU influence in the area in which President Medvedev claims Russia has ‘privileged interests’ and Russians, who see influence in zero-sum terms, will believe that the intention is to diminish Russian influence. Second, Russian leaders argue that the EU’s democracy-promotion programmes instigated the ‘colour revolutions’ in Georgia and Ukraine. Since the Eastern Partnership explicitly states that ‘shared values including democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights’ will be at its core, Russians will perceive it as an attempt to initiate further ‘colour revolutions’ in the region with the attendant danger that they will spill over into Russia. Third, if the Eastern Partnership is successful in establishing a free trade area, it is likely to scupper Russia’s plans for the Eurasian Economic Community which has a free trade area as its end goal. Finally, Russians are likely to interpret the Eastern Partnership’s aim of strengthening the energy security cooperation of participants with regard to long-term energy supply and transit as something that intends to bypass and exclude Russia.

2. As for what Russia can do to disrupt the Eastern partnership. I don’t know that they will do anything other can complain, but there are a number of ways in which they could cause trouble if they wanted to, e.g. using the energy lever against Eastern partners, offering more assistance in dealing with the global economic crisis than the EU offers, encouraging opposition forces within the Eastern partner countries.

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