EU-Russia: Beyond Rivalries?

Written by | Friday, August 26th, 2016

Cyrille Bret and Florent Parmentier (Notre Europe – Jacques Delors Institute)

The relations between Russia and Western countries have been very tense since the annexation of the Crimea and events in the Donbas region. The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Russia in response to these developments, and the Federation has retaliated by imposing sanctions against these Western powers. Thus, the relationship between Russia and the EU is currently not ruled by outright hostility but rather by a rivalry when it comes to their sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

The problem in the EU-Russia relations is, in particular, the existence of an undefined relationship from the side of the Union to the Federation as well as the non-existence of a concept that would govern the interactions between these two actors. At the moment, the situation is quite clear: economic sanctions have been imposed. From the EU side, these sanctions should last until 2017 when it should be decided whether the sanctions would continue or they should be softened or disappear altogether. These three possible scenarios depend on what kind of nature the Russia-EU interactions will have and on what kind of a relationship will be built between these two actors.

However, this development must be preceded by the creation of a concept for how the Union should interact with Russia. One of the problematic areas of the EU-Russia relationship stems from the fact that Russia takes initiative more often than the EU, whereby the latter is then forced to deal with the consequences of the game initiated by the Federation. This conception should set out the points upon which the entire communication and perhaps also cooperation will be built. These should include cooperation on the reconstruction of Syria and the fight against terrorism. Furthermore, freeing the EU’s concept of ideology and replacing it with a rational and realistic approach is key. This point is important in terms of avoiding positioning European values as a counterbalance to Putinism, which should in turn ensure that Putinism would not become an alternative to these values. In reality, the EU should support areas such as the fight against corruption or the maintenance of the rule of law in Russia instead of attempting to balance liberal democracy.

Creating a platform for joint action and communication is another important part of the solution for improving relations between the Union and Russia. In case these tools prove to be efficient, cooperation between the EU and the Eurasian Union can be considered too.

(The study can be downloaded here:

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