Can the EU develop a unitary strategy towards Russia?
When interpreting the relationship between the European Union and Russia, analysts and European officials agree that it is bottoming out in a way not seen since the Cold War. This claim is not novel. Several incidents in the last decades, such as the Georgian-Russian War in August 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, already generated this perception of a tough stand-off between them. However, the difference today is that it might be the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that the EU-Russia relationship has deteriorated so rapidly in such a short period of time
Over the past months, there has been little room for engagement and cooperation. Furthermore, the expulsion of diplomats on both sides and the imposition of sanctions have been the norm. Among the scenarios that have undermined the relationship between the two old acquaintances are the poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of the political opponent Alexei Navalny; the ruinous EU High Representative’s visit to Moscow and the recent build-up of Russian troops close to Ukraine’s border.
In the midst of these troubled times, the EU needs to step forward and resolve a prolonged issue for which it has long been criticised, namely the lack of a common strategy towards Russia. However, it is not an easy task. The relation between Russia and the EU is more of a Janus-faced one. The EU has been divided between those countries that see Russia as a traditional ally while being a stable enemy/adversary for most of the remaining ones. Consequently, the following research question arises: To what extent can the EU develop a unified foreign strategy towards Russia? This concern is relevant since the EU aspires to develop a geopolitical profile beyond its economic and norm-setting power. In order to succeed in this goal, the relationship with its closest neighbour Russia has to be addressed at once should Brussels seek to take part as an equal partner in the global powers’ game which is increasingly developing in the multilateral world of the 21st century.
In order to find an answer to the research question, the paper follows a precise structure: firstly, the EU-Russia relationship and perceptions of each other since the fall of the Berlin Wall up to today will be explained. Secondly, there is an examination of the different ways the EU has recently attempted to build a common strategy and policy for Russia. In the sub-section, it is touched on the challenges and obstacles the EU faces when it comes to creating such a strategy. Lastly, after consciously assessing the material at disposition in the conclusion, a series of recommendations are provided in relation to the subject matter.