Main page > Comments > Politics > Russia-EU Relations, Another Year of Pull and Push

Russia-EU Relations, Another Year of Pull and Push

In 2010, Russia seemed to repeat a historical cycle of the early 18th century, when Peter the Great similarly urged Europe to have a hand in Russia's modernization.

This year, Russia has been making gestures of goodwill towards the European Union (EU), hoping the latter helps its modernization. The EU, hard hit by the financial crisis and still struggling with sovereign debt troubles, is willing to accept Russia's goodwill to support its own fragile economic recovery.

By mutual needs, relations between Russia and the EU have been visibly improved this year after hitting their lowest point in 2008 when the two argued over the conflict between Russia and Georgia. However, inveterate mistrust and divergence left over by history still shadow the road of Russia-EU cooperation and linger in their bilateral ties.

As two big powers on the world stage, their relations are hardly serious setbacks nor quick boosts. Russia and the EU will continue to pull and push each other, experts said.

Mutual need in urgent

With the "reset" of Russia-U.S. relations, Russia and the EU also achieved further detente in their ties and witnessed several high-level meetings this year.

In June, the 25th Russia-EU summit was held in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, with the adoption of a joint statement launching the Partnership for Modernization Initiative.

In November, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, discussing the initiative of creating the Free Trade Area (FTA) with Europe and setting forth a long-term program to develop bilateral economic cooperation.

In December's Russia-EU summit in Brussels, the two parties reached consensus on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization and developed a concrete plan on how to establish their Partnership for Modernization.

During the Brussels summit, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said candidly that "our mutual interdependence is a reality."

Currently, Russia's supply of natural gas accounts for 31 percent of EU's entire natural gas imports, along with 27 percent of crude oil imports and 24 percent of coal imports.

Meanwhile, 47 percent of Russia's imports and 75 percent of its foreign investment comes from the EU, the largest trade partner of Russia.

"Russia wants Europe to help her in modernization, while Europe eyes Russia as a prospective market and a source of energy," Yuri Rubinsky of the Institute of Europe of Russian Academy of Sciences told Xinhua.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said European technology is needed to wean his country's economy off its reliance on energy exports. The EU, which is facing a nervous financial market, sluggish investment and weak private consumption, has also pinned its hopes for economic growth on outside demand.

Partially improved without breakthrough

However, this year didn't witness a breakthrough in relations between Russia and the EU, as their bilateral ties mostly laid in the realm of declarations or the planning of future actions rather than in the practically applicable dimension, experts said.

"By all means, 2010 can be hardly called a year of breakthrough, the improved Russia-EU relations is partly due to the so-called 'low start effect'," Rubinsky told Xinhua.

Konstantin Simonov, head of the National Energy Security Foundation echoed Rubinsky's words.

"Perhaps Russia-EU relations should thank the 'low start effect.' Bilateral ties improved after their rows over the conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008 and a gas spat between Russia and Ukraine in 2009," Simonov told Xinhua.

Currently, EU members in different development levels still hold different stances on Russia's approach, he said.

Accordingly, Russia has been taking a strategy of single-targeting, relying on big countries and breaching Eastern Europe by "funeral diplomacy" in an attempt to promote the comprehensive development of relations with the EU.

Not only furthering its relations with France, Germany, Italy and other European countries on traditional cooperation, Moscow is also seeking to promote its relations with Eastern and Nordic Europe.

In April, Russia took former Polish President Lech Kaczynski's death as an opportunity to unexpectedly improve its relations with Poland. In December, Medvedev historically visited Poland as the first president after eight years of cold peace.

The improved relations between Russia and Poland, an inevitable ring in Eastern Europe, will obviously help promote Russia's overall ties with Europe, experts said.

Goodwill more than actions

Considering the mistrust and divergence between the two sides, Russia-EU relations may be more goodwills than actions.

Simonov said Medvedev in December had proposed several initiatives on Russia-EU cooperation, but so far the EU was still "seriously considering" these proposals without any actions.

"That's because Europe still does not perceive Russia as an equal partner, even though some times Russia is a more attractive partner than some of the EU members. This is not economic or political problem, this is an inveterate prejudice," he said.

For Moscow, it is easier to work with European countries on a bilateral basis than to deal with the entire common institution.

"In 2010, Russia worked fruitfully with Germany, France, Italy, even with Poland. But dialogue between Moscow and EU as a single entity leaves more to be desired," Simonov said.

"For the same reason, cooperation between individual companies of the two countries develops faster than inter-governmental relations," he added.

Thus, a long-awaited Russia-EU visa waiver agreement, along with the FTA initiative, are still in endless talks, experts said.

In addition, unsettled security issues are still hanging over the two sides.

Moscow has been calling for new security architecture since Medvedev fleshed out his proposals in the draft of the "European Security Treaty" after the 2008 conflict with Georgia. But the EU and NATO have not clearly spelled out their attitude yet.

Although the promotion of Russia-EU relations will be easier said than done in the next few years, experts were optimistic about the countries' future ties.

"Business outstrips politicians, and this gives hope that the economic basis of Russia-EU cooperation will grow regardless of political sluggishness," Simonov said.

He also suggested that Kremlin turn its one-way road to the EU into a multi-lane highway, because Russia needs EU's advanced technology but hardly offers the EU anything in return except natural resources.

Rubinsky said both the EU and Russia have not recovered completely from the global financial crisis, therefore they have more urgent problems to solve this year.

"So both parties, generally, laid a base for future cooperation," he said., December, 19, 2010 

Bookmark and Share

Analytical series “The Political compass”:

Political power in Russia after presidential election
State Corporations in the Russian Economy
Political Results of 2007: Russia on the Eve of Power Shuffle
Political Landscape Ahead of the Parliamentary Election 2007
«Centers of influence» in the Russian politics

All reports for: 2009 , 2008 , 2007

Rambler's Top100
About us | Products | Comments | Services | Books | Conferences | Our clients | Price list | Site map | Contacts
Consulting services, political risks assessment on the Fuel & Energy Industry, concern of pilitical and economic Elite within the Oil-and-Gas sector.
National Energy Security Fund © 2007