Russia and Europe



Tom Casier (2007) has noted:


"When the European Union (EU) interacts with Russia, in a setting prior to the crisis over Ukraine, it does not do so in the first place on the basis of what Russia has actually done. Rather the EU acts on the basis of what it believes Russia has become. The Union and its member states redefine the identity of Russia, aggrandise differences between perceived ‘European’ and Russian identities and eventually – in a context of rather acrimonious relations – read bad intentions into Russia’s behaviour. Something similar happens the other way around. Russia is primarily led by the images it holds of the EU. It redefines the EU’s identity up to the point where any move is understood negatively as aimed against Russia. Over roughly the last decade this process has resulted in a competitive logic between the two big neighbours over their respective roles and policies in the overlapping neighbourhoods."



Casier further goes on to comment:

Alexander Wendt analysed how shared understandings of anarchy produced a social reality in international relations in which all states operated as if anarchy was an objective given, rather than an intersubjective product. In other words, relations between states give rise to collective identities: states share certain meanings of the international environment in which they operate and continuously confirm these intersubjective meanings by the way they interact.


The evolving images that actors hold of each other, the identities they project and the degree to which they get (or do not get) recognised in this identity, impact the way they see their interests and how they understand the intentions of their counterparts and give meaning to their action in this light.


This shows up as one of the three main theoretical approaches in IR: Constructivism


What criticisms might be made of this - can we distinguish between process and it outcome as 'the given situation' for the purposes of explaining why a later event/decision happened? Can we distinguish between accepted belief and accepted-as-true fact when explaining an event.


If you were not of a constructivist mind such as at a 2016 seminar of European Ambassadors, you might describe EU-Russia situation/relational system thus:


Russia was at odds with the EU before its seizure of the Crimea in March 2014 and interference in eastern Ukraine led to a sharp deterioration in relations. Never

a candidate for EU membership, it is the largest and most powerful of the EU’s neighbours. It stands apart from all the other neighbourhood countries for that

reason. Russia is important to the EU for several reasons: because of its size and relative military power, including its massive nuclear arsenal; as a supplier of energy to many EU Member States (in some cases the monopoly supplier); and also because it is the neighbour of many of the EU’s neighbours and has great influence in some of

those countries.




Russian attempts at integration after 1990: the CIS..a bit like the EU

The invention of the Russian Federation has across time built in outward appearance a EU like structure. And in part this has chimed in with, if not consolidated a sense of belonging between the former Soviet Republics.

However the latter point  has been at odds with the pro-Western stance f the Yeltsin/Kozyrev period tune with Putin's increasingly hostile and disruptive stance towards Europe innasmuch as Europe politically and socio-culturally has been at odds with the tough policy Putin has pursued towards any of the CIS states drifting towards Europe or NATO.

The CIS has its origins in the Soviet Union (USSR).

When the USSR began to fall in 1991, the founding republics signed the Belavezha Accords on 8 December 1991, declaring the Soviet Union would cease to exist and proclaimed the CIS in its place.

A few days later the Alma-Ata Protocol was signed, which declared that Soviet Union was dissolved and that the Russian Federation was to be its successor state.

The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), which regard their membership in the Soviet Union as an illegal occupation, chose not to participate.

Georgia withdrew its membership in 2008.

Ukraine, which participated as an associate member, ended its participation in CIS statutory bodies on 19 May 2018

Eight of the nine CIS member states participate in the CIS Free Trade Area.

Three organizations are under the overview of the CIS, namely the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Eurasian Economic Union (alongside subdivisions, the Eurasian Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Space, which comprises territory inhabited by over 180 million people); and the Union State.

While the first and the second are military and economic alliances, the third aims to reach a supranational union of Russia and Belarus with a common government, flag, currency and so on.


Member states of CIS


Agreement/protocol ratified

Charter ratified



24 September 1993

24 September 1993



10 December 1991

18 January 1994

Founding state


23 December 1991

20 April 1994

Founding state


6 March 1992

12 April 1994

Founding state


18 February 1992

16 March 1994

Founding state


8 April 1994

15 April 1994



12 December 1991

20 July 1993

Founding state


26 June 1993

4 August 1993



4 January 1992

9 February 1994

Founding state






Agreement/protocol ratified

Charter ratified



26 December 1991

Not ratified

"Founding state". Has never been a member. "Associate state" since 2005.


10 December 1991

Not ratified

"Founding State". Has never been a member. "Associate state" since 1993. Largely ceased to participate in CIS from 2014, and withdrew representatives from all statutory bodies of CIS in 2018 as a result of the Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and Russia's involvement in the War in Donbass

Former member state


Agreement/protocol ratified

Charter ratified





3 December 1993

19 April 1994

18 August 2008

18 August 2009

Withdrew as a result of the Russo-Georgian War of 2008.

It is curious the degree to which the structure of the CIS and its sub-organisation mirrors or at least is rather similar to the operation of the EU. If we take the  Interparliamentary Assembly was established in 27 March 1992 in Kazakhstan.

In 1995 CIS leaders signed the Convention on the Interparliamentary Assembly (IPA) of Member Nations of the CIS ratified by nine parliaments.

The IPA was invested with international legitimacy and is housed St Petersburg and acts as the consultative parliamentary wing of the CIS created to:

discuss problems of parliamentary cooperation

review draft documents of common interest

pass model laws to the national legislatures in the CIS (as well as recommendations) for their use in the preparation of new laws and amendments to existing legislation too which have been adopted by more than 130 documents that ensure the convergence of laws in the CIS to the national legislation.

The Assembly is actively involved in the development of integration processes in the CIS and also sends observers to the national elections.

Discuss issues related to the social and economic development of the newly independent states. Member states have agreed to promote and protect human rights. In 1995 they adopted a Commonwealth of Independent States Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Of course this latter particularly in recent years has been of somewhat thin on implementation.

2009, a new agreement was begun to create a Free Trade Area, the CIS Free Trade Agreement (CISFTA). In October 2011, the new free trade agreement was signed eliminating export and import duties on a number of goods.

Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, agreement in principle about the creation of this space was in 23 February 2003. The Common Economic Space would involve a supranational commission on trade and tariffs. The ultimate goal would be a regional organisation that would be open for other countries to join as well, and could eventually lead even to a single currency.

However, Yuschenko's Premiership of Ukraine and its western turn towards EU membership  as well as becoming a member of the WTO led to Ukraine withdrawing from the Economic space.

In the years subsequent to the development of the CIS there is little reason to suppose that the essential Russian-centredness of the project overall will be in any way weakened , at least in the mind of the Kremlin and of Putin.

The political, economic and military prevalence of Russia is, indeed, a major factor for integration in the post-Soviet space.


Russia takes the lead in nearly all multilateral agreements. It has also developed an extensive web of bilateral agreements with its neighbours.


Russia considers the whole of the post-Soviet space to be its natural sphere of interest – particularly regarding security and economics – and it acts accordingly.


Kobinskaya (2007) has draw out attention to the results of Eurobarometer reports which suggest that in the European part of Russia, the public thought that CIS integration had weakened down to 12% from an average of23% since 1998. However in the Eastern Russian provinces there was an increasing support for greater integration within the CIS.


Europe and Russia.


The Yeltsin Years: Russia and EU

During the Yeltsin years, a clear pattern emerged in EU-Russia relations: the EU considered itself the model for Russia’s future and – at least in the very first years – Russia looked at the EU as a model for its development.

Russia’s first Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev believed that Russia should develop its ‘natural partnership’ with Western countries by investing in the market economy and recognising individual freedoms  Yeltsin was also a strong advocate of this foreign policy approach and considered the West an ‘ally in the common struggle against the Soviet system

In those years of relative Russian weakness, the EU carried the leadership in advancing EU-Russia relations and offered normative frameworks for the development of relations.



Russia and the EU - The PCA

In 1994, EU and Russia signed the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), a framework that still serves as the legal basis of their relations. Since 1997, the PCA has provided the cornerstone of EU-Russia relations, based on European optimism that Russia would follow a relatively linear path towards western pluralism and open economic markets.


The PCA establishes provisions for the development of relations in the political, legal and humanitarian spheres in addition to the economic dimension. The PCA is based on the ‘respect for democratic principles and human rights as an essential element of the partnership’ and includes provisions to ‘support Russian efforts to consolidate its democracy, develop its economy and complete the transition into a market economy’


In the EU’s principle-based policy, the PCA was conceived as a tool meant to provide an appropriate framework for the gradual integration between Russia and a wider area of cooperation in Europe and assist Russia in becoming a fully-fledged democracy.


Similar agreements were offered to the other states emerging from the collapse of Soviet Union. Yet, although signed in 1994, the agreement did not enter into force until 1997, as the European Union halted its implementation in response to Russia’s war in Chechnya.


The EU used normative responses to sanction Russian’s use of power politics, which was incompatible with the EU’s own values, while Russia considered this an illegitimate intrusion in its internal affairs.

The PCA had several merits, including the establishment of a stable communication channel, which offered the possibility of a steady dialogue, allowing the EU and Russia to develop a relationship based on mutual trust.

Because it was created in times of Russia’s extreme weakness, it crystallised EU-Russia relations in a power configuration which reflected their power-relation and intentions as they were in 1994.

This situation was worsened by Russia’s inability to make good use of the platforms provided by the agreement.

 Russia did not invest in training personnel that would be able to make the most of EU-Russia relations through this platform. Russians themselves recognised that Russia’s ‘number of qualified personnel is insufficient to carry out real productive work with the powerful bureaucratic machinery of Brussels.

Russia’s inadequacy to make use of this framework worsened its position vis-à-vis the EU, relegating Moscow to a reactive role, where it limited itself to responding to initiatives put forward by Brussels. This ended up frustrating both the EU and Russia, although for different reasons: the EU because Russia was not delivering and Russia because it enhanced its frustration with being treated as a subordinate interlocutor instead of an equal partner.

By 1997, when the PCA entered into force, Russia had already begun to move away from its early days infatuation with Europe and had entered a process of consolidation of its own separate Eurasian identity.


And after the infatuation...the disenchantment...




Russian strategy towards Europe


Article 8(1) of the Treaty on European Union, as amended by the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, places an obligation on the EU to seek good relations with its neighbours:


The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries, aiming to establish an area of prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation.

This commitment has been described as a ‘naïve Treaty obligation’


In May 2004, the EU launched its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) as a new approach to further enlargement strategies. The European Union is, however, not the only actor worrying about friendly relations with its neighbours. Russia is also very active in redefining its state concept and building its ties with neighbouring independent states, which happen to be former republics of the Soviet Union.


Although they might not copy the European Union altogether, they will take away the uniqueness of the European Union as the sole post-Cold War integration mechanism in European territory. (Malfliet et al 2007)

As the successor state of the Soviet Union, Russia has not stopped perceiving itself as a super power and since the end of the Cold War – ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ in the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin – it has been trying to recover its lost status.

To Russia, any position in European and international affairs other than a primary one is unacceptable: it wants to actively shape the European order, not to be a passive consumer of European norms.

The EU, to the contrary, considers itself a community based on a key set of common values – among them, peace, freedom, democracy, supranational rule of law, and human rights –, which are at the basis of EU’s relations with third parties.

The EU considers these values non-negotiable and has established itself as a normative power, able to diffuse its norms in relations with third countries. Together with their different self-images, the EU and Russia’s images of each other are largely shaped by two different paradigms, a liberal and a neorealist one.

(Note that this does not accord with Tom Casier's argument)

Russia follows a neorealist paradigm, in which balance of power and zero-sum game thinking are at the basis of states’ interactions and a narrow definition of national interest is what motivates states’ decisions. In this model, interest also equals survival and survival is assured when an actor has a relative power over another.

Moscow approaches international relations with a nineteenth-century logic, a struggle between nation states in which military strength and strategy play a fundamental role.

 Russia considers states, with clearly defined national interests, the legitimate actors of the international arena.

The EU, with its supranational nature, escapes this narrow definition, and Russia’s European strategy is largely based on the expectation that its sovereign member states are the ones determining Europe’s future. For these reasons, Russia prefers bilateral relations with EU member states to relations with the EU institutions.

The EU – being a liberal product born from the cooperation that arose from the ashes of World War II – it acts following a liberal paradigm, in which power politics is rejected, the mutual benefits of international cooperation are emphasised and increased economic and cultural interdependence is considered the way to reduce conflict.

 This identity, which was significantly shaped by Putin during the 2000s with Russia identifying as a ‘sovereign democracy’ based on a separate set of values that are not in line with the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement’s value-based foundations and intention of supporting Russia’s path towards Western-style democracy.


In May 2005, following an agreement in principle at the 2003 Saint Petersburg summit, the EU and Russia started working towards the establishment of four ‘Common Spaces’ to provide a more detailed framework for mutual cooperation. These four spaces are in the areas of economic relations; freedom, security and justice; external security; and research and education.

The EU granted Russia a different agreement than the one offered to other countries in Eastern Europe through the European Neighbourhood Policy, hereby recognising its special status. Yet, the EU’s approach was still very much shaped by its normative view of relations. This was particularly visible in the area of external security, which among the four common spaces, turned out to be the most problematic.

Despite there being plenty of areas for cooperation – such as the Balkans, conflict prevention and crisis management – not all Member States were ready to consider Russia as a partner in the common neighbourhood, where major differences of approach were evident, especially towards the so-called frozen conflicts.

Russia objected to what it regarded as EU interference in its backyard and the EU refused to concede that Moscow had any special rights in the common neighbourhood.

The EU’s efforts to facilitate democratic reforms in Russia were treated as interferences in Russia’s internal affairs because Moscow was never interested in becoming a European-style democracy.

European versus Russian policies has been particularly marked in three areas:

1) the Russian attempt to split the European Union by employing divide and rule



2) Russia’s attempt to set itself up as an alternative to the EU in the common

neighborhood; and


3) Russia’s own turn away from democracy and domestic reforms.



In its relationship with Europe, Russia has sought to undermine European unity by engaging in bilateral relations in which it can play to its natural power

advantage. This has meant that Russia has increasingly sidelined the European Commission, dismissing it as inflexible and of little importance.


Russia has been trying to build “special relationships” with some of Europe’s great powers, above all Germany, France and Italy. President Putin has tried and often succeeded in building close and harmonious relations with the leaders of these countries and Russia’s state-controlled energy industry has build up some of its more important partnerships with German, French, Portuguese and Italian businesses.


At the same time, Russia has variably ignored or punished some countries in Europe, especially amongst the new member state, that have shown themselves to be overtly critical of Russian policies.


Amongst others, Russia has


a) interrupted its oil supplies to Latvia in 2003 and Lithuanian in 2006 for 'technical reasons'

b) boycotted Polish meat exports;

c) levied export tariffs on the sale of timber to Sweden and Finland; and it

d)  has turned a blind-eye to the harassment of Estonian and British diplomats, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, after high-profile disputes with these countries.


In its common neighbourhood with the European Union, Russia has increasingly

attempted to provide geopolitical alternative to the European Union and to regain its standing in what Russia regards as its traditional sphere of influence.


Russia has attempted to regain its influence over Georgia and Ukraine which undermined its influence in these countries. via a mixture of coercion and incentives that have proven themselves much more effective than the limited incentives on offer from the EU.


Russian offers of cheap energy, labor market access and diplomatic support, coupled with an absence of conditionality, no demands for political or economic liberalization have enabled it to check European influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.


Combining its good relations with the countries of these regions with tempting commercial offers to some European member states, Russia has seemingly succeeded in thwarting western plans for constructing energy pipelines that could have potentially freed Europe from its energy dependence on Russia.


In Eastern Europe, Moscow has mainly relied on pressure in an attempt to circumvent former European advances, cutting of gas supplies to Ukraine and Belarus on separate occasions.



The European Union has become increasingly frustrated with domestic developments inside Russia and has proven more vociferous in denouncing these moves to the great annoyance of Russia.


The EU for its side maintains that it has a vital interest in Russia's internal developments and continues to underline its demands that Russia should adopt European norms and standards of behavior to avoid going back to the days of the Cold War.


Doing so seems increasingly futile, as the EU was reduced to helplessly look on as President Putin exiled his critics, undermined the political opposition, harassed NGOs and destroyed Russia’s free media.


Today’s Russia is about ‘sovereign democracy’ rather than pluralism, and ‘state capitalism’, rather than open markets. It is not based on values that many in the EU would share.


Unwilling to accept the democratic reversal, the EU frequently criticises Russia for its for its illiberal behaviour, and this is something that is regarded with much resentment by many ordinary Russians.


As a result of these developments, Europe and Russia seem to be locked on a course

of increasing confrontation and destined to turn from strategic partners into competitors.


We can see below in very recent surveys of Russian opinion that Putin's policies though dropping currently are still high and moreover that, despite the perception of MATO are significantly less threatening, there is still  a push towards Russia pursuing its own version of sovereignty.



Putin's ratings on issues drop across the board



But once more we face kinds of paradox, namely the tension that exist between Russia and Europe largely stemming from a clash of values underpinned by the substantive policy areas state's rights, sovereignty, and political liberalism AND the need to  trade with those close by -  the gravity of the  European economy.


Russia drives forward in its historical strategy of pursuing imperious, if not imperial, strength in aiming to shape it's near lands and if it can  Europe. But despite its huge advantage over Europe in terms of oil and gas and the dependency of Europe upon those essential resources, Russia nonetheless needs European, particularly German exports cross a range of types of goods.



Trade to and from the CIS:




The Economy and trade between Russia and Europe



Mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials (SITC Section 3) imported by Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France, Poland, Spain, Greece and Estonia made up 53.1 % of the total EU-28 imports from the CIS.


The share of imports from the CIS (or exports to the CIS) in the total value of imports (or exports) performed by a country is a measure of trade dependency to the CIS. As far as the share of imports from the CIS was concerned (Figure 3), Lithuania was by far the most dependent EU-28 Member States (32.3 % of total imports), followed by Bulgaria (21.3 %), Finland and Greece (19.0 % each). The CIS also accounted for the 31.6 of exports from Lithuania and 21.4 % of exports from Latvia.


File:EU-28 imports from the CIS by commodity section (SITC 1-digit), by country (table), 2013.png

File:EU-28 imports from the CIS by commodity section (SITC 1-digit), by country (table), 2013.png


At their 25th Summit on May 31-June 1, 2010, the European Union and Russia launched a Partnership for Modernisation to the mutual benefit of their citizens.

As stated in the Joint Declaration on the Partnership for Modernisation:"The European Union and Russia, as long-standing strategic partners in a changing multipolar world, are committed to working together to address common challenges with a balanced and result-oriented approach, based on democracy and the rule of law, both at the national and international level".

This commitment was reconfirmed by the EU-Russia Summit of 4 June 2012, where the newly re-elected President Putin underlined the importance of the Partnership for Russia.

Since 2010 the EU through its Delegation to Russia has allocated EUR 7 mln for projects under the EU-Russia Partnership for Modernisation Facility. The two broad areas are trade facilitation through harmonisation of technical regulations and standardisation and strengthening the rule of law.

As a whole, the EU-Russia Partnership for Modernisation comprises not only economic and judicial reform but also support to civil society.

EU programmes in the area of human rights (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and Non-State Actors in Development) are very much complementary to the Partnership for Modernisation Facility.

The Partnership for Modernisation also fits well with the successful regional cooperation in the Northern Dimension Partnerships, namely in environment, transport, culture and health.

 Finally, EU funded programmes in higher education remain a key part of EU-Russia Partnership. 

The recent Ukraine conflict has thrown these trends into reverse, though deterioration in relations had started years before.


The Eastern Partnership (2009), with its offer of association agreements to Russia's neighbours, was perceived in time as a threat equal to that posed by Nato enlargement. Eastern Partnership (EaP) was formed to ‘upgrade’ the EU’s relations with most of its eastern neighbours: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The EaP was agreed in 2008 and inaugurated in 2009, and builds on the ENP.

Objectives: The main goal of the EaP is to ‘accelerate political association and deepen economic integration’ between the EU and its eastern neighbours. The level of integration and cooperation reflects each partner country’s commitment to European values, standards and structures and its progress. The EaP aims to promote democracy and good governance, strengthen energy security, encourage sectoral reforms (including environmental protection), encourage people-to-people contacts, support economic and social development and offer additional funding for projects to reduce socio-economic imbalances and increase stability.


It should be no surprise that such East-West ambition by the EU would put Russian noses out of joint given the rather deliberate and incrasing Putinesque policy of maintaining ad indeed drawing together its near abroad neighbours.


The EU's Third Energy Package (2011), a robust series of measures against monopolistic practices, was viewed in Moscow as a blatantly hostile act.

In summer 2013, the EU Council sharply condemned Russia's mounting pressure on Eastern Partnership countries. In response to Crimea's annexation in March 2014, the EU has suspended virtually all co-operation.

Its enhancement of targeted sanctions in July 2014, in unison with Washington, constrains Russia's access to capital markets and blocks the export of dual-use and sensitive technology.


Attitudes of European States to Russia today.