Russia is giving up on closer relations with Europe
The hopes of pro-Europeans in Russia have been dashed, while proponents of “sovereign democracy” are triumphant: for the first time, Putin has stated openly that Russia has no intention of joining the European Union or entering into any form of association with it.
The past week has finally brought some clarification regarding the future of Russian-European relations. President Vladimir Putin wrote an article to mark the European Union’s 50th anniversary. The Foreign Ministry and the presidential administration released the Russian Federation’s Foreign Policy Review. Both documents doom Russia’s relations with its major trade partner and kindred civiliazation to a lengthy period of stagnation. The hopes of pro-Europeans in Russia have been dashed, while proponents of “sovereign democracy” are triumphant: for the first time, Putin has stated openly that Russia has no intention of joining the European Union or entering into any form of association with it.
The significance of these documents will be stronger than Putin’s Munich speech. Predictably, the perceptible resentment in the Munich speech has been transformed into determination to reinforce Russia’s independence and self-sufficiency, particularly in relation to its powerful and wealthy European neighbor. In effect, Putin politely proposed demarcation – restricting ourselves to bilateral relations while retaining a semblance of cooperation or even partnership.
Putin explains everything except the most important question: why doesn’t Russia intend to participate in European integration, or at least develop closer relations with the EU? “For entirely obvious reasons” – that’s all the article says.
What will be the practical consequences of Putin’s declaration? The Kremlin’s intentions for relations with Europe can be judged by another document: the Russian Federation’s Foreign Policy Review. And here we find an astonishing assertion: it turns out that even though developing a new Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement is a priority on the current agenda, the two sides might extend the current PCA, and “in any event, this is primarily a problem for the European Union itself.”
Apparently, Russia is prepared to leave it up to our European partners to develop a fundamental normative document like the Strategic Partnership Treaty proposed by Putin. Obviously, such a document wouldn’t even try to respect Russia’s interests. Could this really happen? Yes – if the Russian authorities make a conclusive decision in favor of self-isolation, abandoning interaction with the EU as a whole in favor of bilateral relations with European countries.
But do bilateral relations have the potential to “help determine a scale of priorities regarding multilateral organizations”? Britain remains a “complicated” partner for us. The countries that joined the EU in 2004 are abusing “the advantages of EU membership in order to pursue their own political goals with regard to Russia, thus holding Russia-EU relations hostage to their own narrow national interests.” If Nicolas Sarkozy comes to power, friendly France would instantly turn into a fierce critic of “sovereign authoritarianism.”
Direct interaction with European national leaders is nothing more than a political tool for achieving goals. But what kind of goals is Russia setting for itself? President Putin and the Review authors formulate them extremely clearly: visa-free travel to Europe for Russian citizens, a higher level of economic integration, ensuring freedom and security on the European continent.
Can these goals be achieved outside of cooperation with the European Union? No, they cannot. The common market, customs laws, and trade relations are handled by Brussels; visa-free travel is a component of the Schengen agreement, part of EU legislation.
Refusing to deepen our relationship with Europe – which would entail reconciling standards of economic competition and national legislation – is contrary to the interests of Russian citizens. Apparently, however, it is advantageous for the Russian authorities and state-owned corporations.