Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Marcel de HaasSenior research associate at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael
The answer is simple and complicated at the same time: yes, there is a way, if we take a united stance.
A long-standing tradition in Moscow’s policy toward Europe is “divide and rule.” Last week, under the eyes of President Vladimir Putin, Russian gas giant Gazprom and its Dutch equivalent, Gasunie, signed a letter of intent to explore extending the Nord Stream pipeline to Britain. However, a few days later, Gazprom’s CEO made it clear that such a deal could be struck with Belgium as well. In short, Russia is playing EU member states off against each other.
This is only one detail in a broader ongoing energy war between Russia and the EU. By constructing the Nord Stream and South Stream gas pipelines, Russia is circumventing Ukraine. This tactic serves two purposes. First, it is an attempt to blackmail Ukraine into joining Moscow’s Eurasian Union instead of the EU. Second, it aims to counter Nabucco, the EU-backed alternative pipeline from Turkey to Austria, seen as a way to decrease Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.
But instead of conducting a joint energy policy toward Russia, with the EU acting as a contractor on behalf of all member states, each country is making its own bilateral deals with Moscow.
Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept states that Europe and the West are trying to preserve their traditional global leadership, even as their ability to dominate the world economy diminishes. It is time for Europe to recognize that this assessment is true, and that only a cohesive position toward Russia—including on energy—can counter the Kremlin’s weight in Europe.
Denis MacShaneFormer UK Europe minister
Europe would do well to join forces with the United States and pass its own Magnitsky Act, the U.S. bill that lists Russian state officials connected to the arrest and death of Russian lawyer and auditor Sergei Magnitsky, and bans them from entering the United States or owning property there.
President Vladimir Putin and his Duma placemen have reacted with anger to the ban. But, paradoxically, the measure can help to clean up Russian tax, judicial, and police administrations by showing that corruption and using state power to harass opponents has a price.
Russia needs to diversify its economy and reduce corruption. Its citizens want above all else to have bank accounts and property in Europe and to vacation chez nous. Denying such access for those linked to corruption and crime sends a “clean up your act” message throughout the state apparatus.
Moscow wants to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States, and between European nation states and the EU. A European version of the Magnitsky Act would show this tactic does not work.
Paweł ŚwiebodaPresident of demosEUROPA
In the past couple of decades, Europe has tested a number of strategies toward Russia, hoping to build on the interdependence between the two powers. The assumption has been that the EU and Russia need to come to a common understanding and vision of their future relationship, rather than negotiate their differences. The former has failed to materialize, so more of the latter should now be tried.
One way to achieve this is to follow the logic of the U.S. “reset” policy. The whole point of this was to work together with Russia on issues of global relevance, including the Iranian nuclear program and Afghanistan, while agreeing to disagree on democracy, good governance, and human rights. As a direct neighbor of Russia, the EU never wanted to enter into this type of transactional logic. It has preferred to entertain illusions about a common neighborhood, in spite of the fundamentally different visions for the area.
These illusions should now give way to a more open and honest conversation about tangible interests, combined with plain language from the EU about threats to democracy in Russia. Such a relationship does not have to be less ambitious. One specific offer the EU can make is to involve Russia closely in the talks with the United States on the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The EU should open a separate channel of dialogue with Moscow on this issue.
Should Russia be interested, its membership in a new transatlantic market would do more to determine the country’s future orientation than anything the EU has put forward to date.
Stephen SzaboExecutive director of the Transatlantic Academy
The best way for Europe to deal with a Russia that has adopted a “divide and rule” stance toward the West is by pursuing a common approach.
But devising a joint position runs up against the differing interests of the EU’s biggest member states. Of all EU countries, Germany has the most important relationship with Russia and the most leverage with Moscow, but it is reluctant to outsource its Russia policy to Brussels. Berlin is also the main target of Moscow’s policy on Europe, which favors bilateral deals over a pan-European approach.
Russia did not take the EU seriously before the onset of the eurozone crisis, and is even less inclined to do so now. Europe must realize it is dealing with a mafia state, which is using energy, money, and corruption to further the interests of its elite. As U.S. journalist and author Anne Applebaum has observed, the Russian leadership
may no longer aspire to launch international Communist revolution . . . but they do aspire to change the Western norms and behavior that they see as standing in their way: they want to make Americans and Europeans less interested in human rights, more accepting of corruption, and perhaps more amenable to Russian investment and Russian oligarchs.
Or, as Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov warns, “Europe must decide between gas and values.”
The recent opening of antitrust proceedings by the European Commission against Gazprom, and the growing critique in Germany of President Putin’s regime, are hopeful signs that Europe and Germany may be realizing the stakes involved in their relationship with Russia.
Dmitri TreninDirector of the Carnegie Moscow Center
Thankfully, Russia today is not a major issue for Europe, nor is it likely to become one in the near future. The relationship between the two, which only recently was merely existential, has become normative for some, and transactional for others.
A normative approach rests on the insistence that all countries, including Russia, have to live up to their international obligations. That is idealistic, and probably ineffective, but useful for soothing one’s own conscience. Its drawback is cooler relations with Moscow, something about which idealists care little.
A transactional relationship emphasizes the practical gains from doing business with the Russians. The price of these gains is the accusation of moral blindness, which, for businesspeople, is nothing new.
Europe is currently leaning toward both approaches at the same time. Some—in all countries—will focus on gay rights, others on gas prices. If Europe were one, and had a strategy, it might adopt a long-term position toward its biggest neighbor. It might decide that its biggest soft power instrument vis-à-vis Russia is visa-free travel. It might get an insight that Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbors could be Europe’s natural partners in the global marketplace. It might consider the possibility that even a transformed Russia would not look like Western Europe.
It might—but not just yet. Right now, Russia, to Europe, is little more than a distraction. Looking back, that is not too bad. Looking to the future, it’s not good enough.
Igor YurgensChairman of the management board of the Institute for Contemporary Development
Europe is a factor that Russia’s leadership has always had to pay attention to when formulating its foreign policy positions. Even with Russia’s rapidly changing domestic political scene and the likely repositioning of its foreign policy choices, it would be counterproductive for Moscow to move away from Europe as a priority. And even though exaggerated expectations of the gains from cooperation between Russia and its European partners have been disappointed, that cannot overshadow society’s real needs.
During President Putin’s recent visit to Germany and the Netherlands, it became apparent that the EU and Russia’s conflicting values have grown even more disparate. In Russia, liberals are unable to turn a blind eye to the centralization of political power, the suppression of political opposition, and the coupling of the state with major financial and industrial groups. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, openly referred to this, and such remarks cannot be dismissed as mere anti-Russian propaganda.
How these differences are resolved will depend above all on Russian civil society. Active and discerning elements of Russian society still have strong convictions, and are playing an active role in developing a multidimensional strategic partnership with Europe.
There is no real alternative to this. Russia’s presidency of the G20 in 2013 and of the G8 in 2014 offers a tangible basis for the next phase of active rapprochement. For both sides, this is an opportunity for resolute action.