Russia's Relations with the EU

by Nadia Arbatova, Head, Department of European Studies, Institute of World Economy and International

Relations (IMEMO), Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia


Though it is very tempting to regard the current crisis in Russia-EU relations as a crisis of the moment, its

nature is different. It is a deep systemic crisis which is a crisis of the system of EU-Russia relations. It can

be assessed as a product of one fundamental problem in the relations between two partners –the lack of

strategic goals in the relationship. Like NATO, EU is ready to offer Russia special arrangements but not institutions.


In 2007 the EU and Russia will have to agree on the future of the PCA (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement) –

either to extend the existing or slightly modified treaty or to sign a new agreement. The PCA which still remains

the main legal document for Russia-EU cooperation is outdated. Political cooperation went far beyond the limits

of the PCA. Russia’s membership of the WTO will deprive the whole part on trade of any real meaning. So, what

should be done? This question should be addressed in a broader context of the EU strategy vis-a-vis the

post-Communist Europe.


But first let me attract your attention to the fact that there exists a striking unanimity between conservatives

in Russia and in the EU in their support of PCA and of Russia’s place in Europe, though their conservatism is

different. The EU politicians are not ready to overburden the EU domestic agenda with the so-called Russian

factor and to take new risks. Russian conservatives, apart from nostalgia about the super power status, are

fearful that integration between Russia and the EU on the basis of European norms and principles will present

a threat for them. As for bureaucracy, by definition it is not interested in radical decisions.


The reason for the current crisis is that Russia has never been included in EU strategy on post-Communist Europe.

In the 90’s this strategy was based on two processes:


First, stabilisation through the regional cooperation of the most problematic countries in central and South Eastern

Europe; and second, integration of the most prepared countries directly into the EU. But even the stabilisation

process had an interim legal format of relations between the EU and the third countries – Stabilisation and Association



The PCA which was offered between 1994-1995 to Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova was outside the EU strategy

on post-Communist Europe. More recently, Moldova has been included in the Stability plan for South Eastern Europe

as a recipient country, though it does not entirely belong to the region geographically and politically. Ukraine, which is

going to enter the EU, tries to overcome the level of PCA.


Interestingly enough, Russia while negotiating the PCA in the early 90’s was trying to reach an agreement closer to

Association. It does not mean that the Yeltsin leadership understood what European integration was all about or its

importance for Russia’s systemic democratic transformation. It didn’t have any clear goals or priorities in its European

direction. But in this period of the post-Communist euphoria there was a general understanding that Russia should be

included into the Euro-Atlantic family of free nations.


Granted the importance of PCA, which established a new legal foundation for EU-Russia relations, this model of agreement

had several serious deficiencies:


        1. it reflected a purely technocratic approach but not a political one;


        2. it was not aimed at democratic transformation but was focused primarily on selective cooperation in the field of trade.


To put it simply, the PCA left the countries which accepted this kind of agreement outside EU integration.


The EU strategy has been developed further in the Concept of the EU Neighbourhood Policy, directed at stabilisation of

the EU’s immediate neighbourhood.  Criticised in Russia, the first draft, Communication on Wider Europe, put Russia in

one group together with Southern Mediterranean countries. This concept didn’t define any clear priorities in the EU

neighbourhood which was regarded as one integral space.


But the final draft – the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) - has excluded Russia from the EU strategy. This document defines

Russia as the EU strategic partner but it says that EU-Russia relations will be built around the St. Petersburg decisions on four

common spaces of cooperation – common economic space, justice and home affairs, external security and culture and education.

No doubt, the idea is great and if implemented, it would upgrade the level of EU-Russia relations. But, unfortunately, it still

remains a brilliant idea but nothing more. In order to be implemented it would require a very high degree of trust, particularly in the

field of internal and external security, and a new legal foundation.


So, what is the balance sheet of EU-Russia relations? We have the outdated PCA and a good but unrealistic, for the time being, idea

on four common spaces of cooperation.


A new treaty is of vital importance and necessity. Russia should be finally included into the EU post-Communist strategy. And, let

me remind you, that it was Russia who gave Europe unprecedented security having dissolved the USSR.


The name of a new treaty is a matter of principle. The “what’s in a name approach” is unacceptable. An improved and modified PCA

would be just a confirmation of the old approach of the EU. It would be like a stamp on Russia’s forehead, a recognition that Russia

will be left outside the main processes developing in Europe. An Association Agreement or a Transformation and Association Agreement

is badly needed to overcome current crisis in the EU-Russia relations.


A new treaty should be aimed at democratic transformation through consistent and gradual integration of Russia into the EU. This new

approach should be extended to the European part of the CIS along the pattern of stabilisation and association process which would help

to prevent a new confrontation, a new dividing line and rivalry between Russia and the EU in the post-bipolar space. A new treaty

will upgrade the level of EU-Russia relations and prevent a new crisis.


Another painful issue for Russia is Turkey, which is culturally much less European than Russia, but who, like Russia, is geographically partly

European, partly Asian, and whose democratic transformation, like Russia’s, is not yet close to completion, but which is nevertheless

portrayed as a potential member of the European Union in the EU strategic documents including the ENP. The answer from Brussels would

be – “Turkey applied for the EU membership.” But what would happen if Russia applied for the EU membership? Undoubtedly, it would be

extremely confusing both for Brussels and for the major European countries which have special relations with Russia.


Of course, a great deal will depend on the position of the new EU members who should get rid of old complexes, the Soviet syndrome,

and understand that the stronger the EU-Russia relations are, the safer and stronger Europe is. In its turn, Russia should abandon its nostalgia

about the imperial past and establish good and mutually beneficial relations with the new EU members.


Research & Development Center - Intercollege

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