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What kind of a European Union does Russia need?

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Why Moscow wants to see the strong and unified EU

What kind of a European Union does Russia need?

Appeared at A-specto, translated from Bulgarian by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront

Moscow needs a strong European Union, since it objectively corresponds to its strategic interests. Statements which say that Russia is trying to loosen the EU, and that it prefers dialogue on energy supply, not with Brussels but with individual member states are false. These are the findings contained within one of the chapters of the report “Without “common space”: new relations between Russia and the EU” prepared for the discussion club “Valdai” and published by Lenta.ru

Recently in the Member States of the European Union the following dogma has been established: “Russia is interested in the disintegration and weakening of the EU and is working hard on these processes.” Given as evidence is Moscow’s desire to solve some of the issues bilaterally, and its unwillingness to engage with the leadership of the supranational EU institutions, especially with the European Commission.

These accusations are unfounded. Russia maintains dialogue with EU countries on issues of energy and security on bilateral level, not because it wants to spoil the EU, but because EU law provides for this. According to it, these areas are the responsibility of the member States. They in turn are not willing to delegate their powers to supranational levels and instead seek to decide where and how to import energy and how to ensure their national security. There is nothing wrong and disintegrating about Moscow conducting negotiations with those who are interested in cooperation – just as in the bilateral negotiations between the EU countries and the United States on US imports.

Also there is nothing objectionable in the proposed support from Moscow for some political forces within the Union who want to be closer to her and are willing to accept, or at least to recognize the Russian perspective on issues such as Syria or Ukraine. The EU does the same on an even larger scale in its relations with pro-Western Russian politicians and organizations.

European policy in recent years is built on the basis of the lowest common denominator and the role of Central and Eastern Europe and the impact of the Baltic States in this case considerably increases. This is not Moscow’s fault. In these conditions Russia has an interest from interaction with countries in the EU who are interested in a broader constructive cooperation.

Moreover Russian relations with member states of the EU does not lead to ignoring the Union, unlike the Unions policy toward member states of the Eurasian Economic Union. The European Union continues to conclude comprehensive agreements with Kazakhstan, Armenia and other countries in the Eurasian Economic Union, as if it does not exist. Brussels makes no secret, that it considers the Eurasian Economic Union to be an artificial organization and they are not ready to have a meaningful relationship with it, unlike the EU’s relationship with other integrational groupings (ASEAN, MERCOSUR and others).

Where the EU is absolutely not interested in the development of the Eurasian Economic Union, Russia actually wants to see a strong, integrated and efficient European Union. This is related to its objective interests in economics, politics and security, both in Europe and in the Middle East and around the world. A weak EU is not able to be an effective partner in matters concerning European security. A weak EU can not have a strong impact on the Middle East region or guarantee the energy interests of Russia. Russo-European relations are currently in a deplorable state due to the processes of disintegration and fragmentation that exist within the EU since the beginning of the XXI century.

First, Russia needs a strong European Union as a partner in terms of European security. A strong EU will be able to influence Ukraine to participate in the discussion and formation of European security, as well as promote good relations between neighboring countries. A capable and confident EU would see Russia as a smaller danger and would not exaggerate this negative image, using it as a “unifying factor.”

Conversely, a weak EU is a security problem, because it instinctively needs the United States and calls on them to further strengthen their role in European security, and to strengthen their military presence in Eastern Europe. Geopolitical and military-political schism in the continent is increasing because of this. Because of contradictions and inability to hold a united domestic policy, the Union can not influence Ukraine to respect its part of the Minsk arrangements and to agree with Russia on the rules of the game in neighborly cooperation. In its current state it can not develop a fundamentally new policy aimed at Eastern Europe, despite the obvious failure in the course. Finally, a weak EU is unable to discuss military issues on security and therefore the only partner of Russia in this regard remains the United States. Many of the failures of the discussions in the 2008 – 2013 on issues concerning the security of Europe, are associated with the weakening and fragmentation of the EU.

Second, the view that a weak and divided EU would hold a more favorable policy towards Russia than a strong and consolidated EU is very wrong. On the contrary, a weak EU is seeks to use Russia as a unifying factor and artificially creates the image of Russia being an aggressor. Proof of this is the Ukrainian crisis in 2014/2015. In a fragmented and divided EU, anti-Russian countries like Poland and the Baltic countries have much more influence on the development of a common policy, than in a strong EU, where they play a secondary role. Finally, a weak EU empowers the US to influence EU decisions on foreign policy.

Third, only a strong and consolidated EU is able to be a reliable importer of Russian energy, as it was until the middle of the first decade of this century, when the EU began to fragment and disintegrate. The problems with the construction of new gas pipelines from Russia to Europe, bypassing transit countries (“South Stream”) is determined by the absence of a common EU energy policy, and so individual states block projects that are objectively advantageous to the Union as a whole.

In the case of the “South Stream” Bulgaria was influenced to a greater extent by US interests than the interests of the majority of EU countries. The weak and fragmented EU is not able to work out a solution together with Russia and Ukraine, to attained a reliable transit of Russian gas through Ukrainian territory. Finally, strengthening EU institutions in the energy sphere can remove the fears of some member states that Russia would use the “energy stick” against them. This generally would reduce the politicization of energy relations between Russia and the EU.

Fourth, Russia needs a strong EU partner to solve the problem in the Middle East. Only by being a global player who is capable of pursuing a common foreign policy, can the EU can have a disciplining effect on Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and to ensure the establishment in the Middle East of a new international political order with their worthy participation. A weak EU is not able to carry out an effective migration and counter-terrorism policy, but only fans the fire. The events of the 2015/2016 are a confirmation of this.

Fifth, only a strong EU as a global center of power can reduce the tendency of a world wide global division into two major political and economic poles, and only a strong EU can generally make the world more balanced. The consolidated EU will be more confident in negotiations with the US on transatlantic partnership for trade and investment, and at the same time could be an interesting partner for China. A weak EU, increasingly a subject of Washington both politically and economically, becomes a powerful factor in the global schism.

The Russian focus on bilateral relations with the EU is a necessary measure and objective necessity in terms of the internal state of the EU, and the prevailing processes of EU weakening and fragmentation are not inspired by Moscow, but have a purely internal genesis. This situation does help the strategic interests of Russia in the field of economy, energy and security. To better them, Russia needs a strong and united EU.

Finally, there is the argument that a strong and consolidated EU will be even more attractive for states from the former Soviet Union, and that Brussels will conduct a more active and perhaps even aggressive role in compromising the influence and interests of Moscow. However, this is not quite right. The biggest EU assertiveness in the post-Soviet space has been exactly during the period of internal crisis, by trying to compensate for internal defeats with foreign “victories”. Moreover, a strong EU and a boundless expansion to the East are two radically opposing things, and its development after the expansions in 2004 and 2007 prove this. On the contrary, a strong EU will be more capable of working out a new policy concerning the eastern direction, by taking into account the reality of a second center of integration withing the “Big Europe”.

As to the attractiveness of the EU for post-Soviet states, this question relates more to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union than to the EU. If Russia succeeds to carry out the necessary internal reforms and to become a role model for nearby neighbors, and to skillfully instrumentalize the objective dependence of post-Soviet countries to Russia and Eurasian integration, then no type of EU could not stop her.

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