(Prof. Mette Skak)


The Mismatch of Russia and the EU as Actors in a Globalized World

Presentation by Mette Skak [1], University of Aarhus, Denmark for the conference "Russia and the European Union after Enlargement: New Prospects and Problems", Oct. 7th 2005, Faculty of International Relations, Sankt Petersburg State University

Abstract: In theory, the EU-Russia relationship is of the utmost importance for both parties, but in reality interaction between the parties is quite superficial. This paper argues that the two parties have quite incompatible perceptions of themselves and one another, in particular Russia fails to comprehend the uniqueness of the EU and its own standing in international affairs. The analysis reviews the state of EU-Russia affairs and then goes on to portray how Russia sees itself and acts in international relations emphasizing the Russian (mis-)understanding of the EU, This is contrasted with a brief analysis of how the EU really works and the real options for an intimate EU-Russia relationship. The conclusion is guardedly optimistic, depending on Russia's capacity for bringing its approach to international affairs, in case the EU, up to date.

The disappearance of the watershed between the domestic and the foreign policies has been a tendency of the last 30 years. Some call it the dilution of national sovereignty. The world has become more transparent in terms of information, and it is no longer possible to hide or deny things. But peoples behavior is still based on the ideology of relationships that date back to the so- called Westphalia system of several centuries ago.

It is being diluted now but people cant adapt so quickly and the political class denies these changes. [] This happens in every country, not only in Russia. [] But as I have said, we are going to be much more affected by this process than other countries and their political classes simply because there is a very small stratum of people in this country who can monitor global tendencies thoroughly, if it exists at all.

Sergei Karaganov, Radio Ekho Moskvy, May 11th 2004.



In theory, the EU-Russia relationship is of the utmost strategic importance for both parties, but in reality interaction between the two parties is quite superficial. True, EU-Russia relations have undergone a dynamic evolution since the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union in 1991 making it possible to be speak of a special relationship between the two parties as reflected in the pioneering Common Strategy of the European Union and Russia of June 4th, 1999. But when taking into account Russias enormous geopolitical significance for the entire EU area as one vast continent-sized buffer between Europe and Asia - for good or worse, that is both as a market for Europe and a potential zone of stability protecting Europe or just the opposite - and, conversely, the EU's absolutely vital importance for Russia as the world market integration avenue, the democratic institution-building frame of reference etc. etc., it becomes clear that EU-Russia relations ought to be far more intimate and dynamic. Please observe that I am not speaking about Russia becoming a formal member of the EU as this is an issue I believe is best left outside the discussion as too farfetched for the time being. In short, the EU-Russia relationship is suboptimal or underdeveloped which is readily recognized by EU officials and Russian spokesmen [2]. So what is wrong or rather: why is it that the two parties fail to deepen their cooperation and merely go on speaking past one another? This is the research puzzle I intend to solve through a brief analysis of the dynamics behind the EU-Russia relationship. The explanation offered reiterates the opening statement of Karaganov quoted on top of page one, dwelling on the anachronistic outlook of Russia's decision makers. What I argue is that Russia's approach to the EU rests on a misunderstanding of what kind of actor the EU really is. In other words, this paper represents a skeptical attitude to EU-Russian affairs stressing the unsophisticated nature of this relationship whereas other scholars are much more enthusiastic [3].

The evolution of EU-Russia relations - a brief, polemical review

Arguably, the one and only watershed in EU-Russia relations came not after, but before the collapse of communism, namely as early as 1972, when the Soviet (!) economist D. Melnikov published an article arguing that the Common Market (as it was then called) represented a rising centre of power in the capitalist world challenging the dominance of the United States in world affairs [4]. This legitimized the opening of dialogue between the CMEA, the communist forum for economic integration which was abolished in 1991, and the Common Market. As will be shown later this Soviet Marxist point of using the EU as a way to exploit and benefit from inter-imperialistic contradictions as it was called in the jargon of the time remains valid in todays Russia as the essence of the Primakov doctrine of multipolarity. Apart from that the EU-Russia relationship has been far from harmonious. It took until the summer of 1994 before a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement could be entered and almost immediately after EU-Russia relations went sour due to Russia's invasion of Chechnia. Since then relations have improved, not least because of the extraordinary events of 9/11 in the United States which created a new community between Russia and the Western world in general. Among other things the EU in May 2002 promised to extend full market status to the Russian economy, and new ambitious programmes have been launched, e.g. the EU's Northern Dimension initiative. However, it is symptomatic for EU-Russia relations that Russia sought to exploit the French-German opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq - and that it gained virtually nothing from this. Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin tried in vain to exploit his position on Kyoto to blackmail the EU, Japan and Canada to guarantee a further economic exchange with Russia worth 3 billion $ which they all refused. "The EU in particular made clear that it was displeased with bargaining of this kind" as observed by the American analyst Mark N. Katz in his verdict on Putin's foreign policy [5]. This had the effect of inspiring the EU to make its approval of Russia's entry into the WTO - a top priority in Moscow and for good reasons - contingent upon a pledge to ratify the Kyoto Treaty which then happened in 2004.

Russia's anachronistic approach to world affairs, notably the EU

Already, I made the point that today's Primakov doctrine inspiring much Russian foreign and security policy merely continues the old Soviet reasoning of exploiting conflicts and clashes of interest between the power centres in world affairs, notably exploiting tension between Europe and the United States. Yet, is it fair to Russia to speak of this kind of continuity? Does Putin not - at least the post 9/11 Putin - display a fairly enlightened view of world affairs including a recognition of Russia's own limited power in world affairs and desperate need for intimate cooperation with the Western democracies? Until recently I invested much energy in arguing just that - insisting that Primakovs view was being replaced perhaps not by outright liberalism and institutionalism, but at least by a fairly healthy doctrine of internal balancing - of making Russia strong through reform [6].

Certainly, much of what Putin is saying and Russia is doing on the international arena confirms that Putin is more sophisticated than, for instance, Primakov. The influential and hard-nosed analyst Karaganov heading Russia's Foreign and Defense Policy Council may have delivered some of the analytical ammunition behind this, but his own frustrations about the limits to the analytical capacity of the Russian political class quoted at the outset of this paper are, unfortunately, very well-founded.

The good news is that the Russian elite no longer cites Lenin and Marx, but has de-ideologized its view of world affairs for the benefit of what is known as realism within the study of world affairs. The key canonical text revealing this is the foreign policy doctrine of Russia of 2000 which makes it clear that Russia-EU relations are to be understood in the context of Russia's balancing against the United States and NATO [7]. Realism emphasizes the theme of conflict and rivalry in world affairs and as for actors and their motivations focuses exclusively on states and raison d'etat, i.e. seeking to maximize ones position in world affairs, if possible at the expense of others (seeking relative gains to use the jargon of neo-realism). Realism has many proponents, academics and practitioners, so in a sense Russia is just joining the mainstream.

The bad news is that this approach is utterly inadequate and outdated as basis for understanding what the EU and its integration process is all about. On this account, Karaganov himself lives in a disturbingly Westphalian (: realist) world of driving a hard bargain with Brussels, deploring the EUs "petty squeezing out unilateral concessions in favor of its own countries or market components." [8]. Karaganov 's realist recipe for how to deal with the EU is a recipe for Russian defeat and further frustration over EU-Russia affairs as it forces the EU to reciprocate using its superior powers as seen in the Kyoto Protocol episode cited earlier. The brute fact is that Russia needs the EU more than the EU needs Russia because of the EU's superior soft power resources which Russia badly needs to copy and to use in order for the Russian society to recover from almost a century of Czarist and Soviet mismanagement. Accordingly, Russia must abandon its realist macho approach to EU diplomacy and take stock of the EU (and itself!) as an actor in a globalized world in the sense brilliantly epitomized by Karaganov at the outset of this paper.

The EU as an actor in world affairs - and options for Russia

This is not the place to go deep into the vast theoretical literature on the EU for the sake of profiling the author as an expert on EU integration which she is not, the idea is only to establish some important facts and trends within the EU. As already pointed out the EU stands out as an actor in world affairs due to its immense soft power, that is its enormous attraction for people living outside the EU due to the prosperity, the consolidated democracies and generally smoothly running non-corrupt states that characterize the region. This is what at one time inspired the Danish neo-realist Hans Mouritzen to characterize not the United States, but the EU as the real unipole for the European neighbourhood [9]. In a basic sense this is recognized by Putin and other Russian decision makers as reason for the EUs position high on the Russian foreign policy agenda, but the problem is that Russian analysts treat the EU as an outcome rather than a 'work in progress and they prefer to ignore what it takes to become such a success in world affairs. In order to be taken seriously by the EU, let alone emulate the EU Russia must look inside itself and fight corruption, poverty, authoritarianism, militarism, pollution, and abuse of powers. Russia also has to reconsider its policy in Chechnia (which is not to say that Russia must pull out its troops at once and leave Chechnia to itself).

In terms of its actor quality and capacity the EU is unique in more than one sense. Russian foreign policy makers mostly treat the EU as a simple unitary state actor in a global balance of power game - and as a conventional Westphalian player in a great power concert akin to the Concert of Europe of 1815-1851 to which Czarist Russia was a key party. In reality, the EU is anything but a normal territorial state and unitary actor, but a highly complex and yet fuzzy actor. Most analysts simply give up the search for adequate theoretical models to apply upon the EU as it is neither a federation, nor just a confederation for that matter, but a network-like sui generis actor which among other things is characterized by multi-level governance. What this means in practice is that the EU is a notoriously slow conservative actor in world affairs, quite the opposite of what one might expect from its dynamic and magic on the inside. Most important of all, it rarely makes sense to consider the EU one single actor, as Russia would like to do. The EU is a structure rather than an actor, a cacophony rather than a concert, clumsy rather than swift - except perhaps when engaged in zero-sum games by the outside world. The latter has been seen in WTO affairs and United States-EU trade conflicts. The internal EU decision making is typically one of horse-trading, compromising, and coalition-building, but always in an effort of creating win-win solutions for all parties suggesting that this may be the trick for the EUs external partners as well. Not that EU-Russia relations are devoid of this as seen is the compromise reached on the thorny issue of Kaliningrad in November 2002, but even then the Russian negotiators could not resist the temptation to play machos - in effect threatening to sell their Kaliningrad compatriots down the river hereby shooting themselves in the foot.

The EU is often criticized for its irrelevance when it comes to hard power, that is military power, and its weak military and security policy actor capacity [10]. There is much to be said for this point of view including the deplorable lack of vision and political leadership in world affairs displayed by todays top politicians of the European Union (one result being the Yugoslav disaster of the early 1990s). Even so, one should not underestimate the dynamism of the EUs Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) including the EU's efforts of building up military peace-keeping and crisis management capacities (the 60,000 man strong Rapid Reaction Force, RRF) as well as the intimacy of EU-NATO relations. In general, Russia has been far more enthusiastic about the CFSP [11] than NATO due to the latter's enlargement and -1 am tempted to speculate - exactly because Russia perceives the EU as militarily weak. But again, this Russian approach may be self-defeating. Clearly, the EU is not going to become a military alliance copying NATO's collective defense capacity not to speak of a military superpower akin to the United States nor will there probably ever be a truly international EU army. The relevant thing to consider is the Petersburg concept for the EUs role in crisis and armed conflicts outside its territory. The Petersburg Tasks of the RRF include humanitarian search and rescue missions, peace-keeping missions, crisis management tasks including peace-enforcing, environmental protection and the trend has been to allow for a more ambitious 'hard security' interpretation of this concept. To take but one example, the EU acted rather swiftly when stepping in as guarantor of the recently negotiated peace in the Aceh province of Indonesia, something of an 'out-of-area mission! What this means is that the EU is not necessarily irrelevant as a partner for Russia when it comes to, say, monitoring some kind of negotiated solution in Chechnia, perhaps even enforcing order and supporting a reconstruction of the war-torn region. Already, both the United States and Europe is beginning to take on a role as a stabilizing economic force and institution-builder (with Russia's approval) in the notoriously unstable North Caucasian parts of the Russian Federation. Needless to say, if this scenario is to extend into Chechnia itself, Russia has to abandon its Westphalian approach to its own sovereignty and adopt one matching "the disappearance of the watershed between the domestic and the foreign policies" and the transparency inherent in globalization as correctly observed by Karaganov.

What about ordinary economic cooperation? Already there is an intimate trade relationship between the EU and Russia making the EU combined Russia's largest economic partner and in the eyes of some observers making the EU dangerously dependent upon Russia as source of energy imports. Also from the point of view of Russia this relationship is lopsided as Russia would like to diversify its exports to EU in the direction of processed goods instead of raw materials. One of the costs of Russia's continuing exclusion from the WTO is that Russia cannot make use of the organizations machinery for resolving trade disputes and hence is at a disadvantage concerning the harsh antidumping measures of the EU. This is all more or less well-known. What is less well-known to Russian decision makers, I suspect, is the enhanced trade creating and transformative powers of the old 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (= the PCA) as a result of the increasing integrative dynamics of the European Single Market as argued by the Swiss scholar Stephan Kux [12]. His entire reasoning is one that looks upon the EU-Russia relationship from the bottom-up perspective of de facto integrative and transformative spillover from Russia-EU cooperation in continuation of the so-called neo-functionalist theory of integration. In contrast, Russian decision- and opinion makers like Karaganov tend to see the matter only from the top-down perspective of state-level costs and benefits. This made perfect sense in the Soviet era of the unified planned economy and the CPSU monopoly on political power when the Russian side at least was a unitary Westphalian actor, but this is no longer so.

What Kux argues more specifically is that Russia is going to see itself placed in much the same position as Norway and Switzerland - countries that are forced to adapt to EU standards, harmonize laws, implement decrees etc. issued by the European Commission and reform administrative institutions in order to really profit from their EU relationship - without having a formal say on internal EU decision making. The point is that this compelling integrative logic is bound to slowly, slowly but irreversibly transform Russia in exactly the direction required for being eligible for future full European Union membership. To take but one example:

"If Russian producers intend to export furniture to the EU, they have to comply with European safety norms and quality standards. If Russian export companies want to avoid antidumping rulings and increased custom duties they have to respect the European competition law. Thus, it makes sense for Russia to adopt European safety norms and quality standards and to pass laws that fully comply with European competition rules [...] the PCA will have a double spillover, from the economic into the political realm, from the international trade into the domestic arena. Thus there is much more to the PCA than its 112 technical articles, ten appendixes and two protocols." [13]


What I have just argued through the long quotation from Kux' analysis is not the least interesting prospect, on the contrary. One further point made by Kux is that European Union membership for Russia or not is not really the crux of the matter, Russia will in any event benefit tremendously from adapting itself to the acquis communautaire as the only way to make itself EU compatible and be taken seriously as a truly vital partner for Brussels. True, there may be losers in the process, for instance the siloviki now reputedly running Russia behind the scenes, but apart from this handful of people the Russian society at large - civil society - may benefit enormously from these integrative dynamics politically as well as economically. Already now, Polands entry into the European Union is opening new avenues for Russian, Ukraininan and Belarussian construction workers [14]. In other words, from a long-term perspective it is almost irrelevant what goes on at the top level diplomacy between the EU Chairmanship at any given time and the Kremlin as long as Russia does not turn into a closed society and undisguised political dictatorship. The EU-Russia process may slow down, may have its zig and zags but it is in Russias good interest to keep it alive, because in this asymmetrical power relationship the EU is going to be more patient, not to say indecisive and hence strong party and Russia the more desperate and impatient party in need of what the EU can offer. [15]

Or to be more exact: it is a necessity for Russia to modernize its approach to the European Union in order to fully and intelligently exploit the inherent opportunities. Russia has to grasp the uniqueness of the EU as an actor and abandon its realist convictions. Similarly, the EU is also well advised to be more forthcoming and visionary in its approach to Russia, not least when it comes to security policy issues such as how to de-escalate the violence in Chechnia and stabilize the entire Caucasian region, an issue that has a bearing upon European security in general. At one occasion Russia actually showed a willingness to abandon its earlier Westphalian stance of insisting that Chechnia is an internal affair into which no outside party should be seen meddling. I have in mind Putin's visit to Germany by the turn of the year 2004/2005 when he directly invited the EU to take on an active role in regulating the Chechnia conflict as agreed between him and the German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. As far as I know, however, precious little has come out of this. Nevertheless, this episode shows that there is reason for guarded optimism concerning Russia's capacity for changing the tenor of its EU diplomacy. Things are as not as black and white nor static as often maintained, but gray and if not wildly dynamic, then slowly changing.

1 - For further contact you may, for instance e-mail me: msk@au.ps.dk . My postal address: Associate Professor Mette Skak, Department of Political Science, Universitetsparken Bldg. 331, DK-8000 Arhus C., Denmark (tel.: (+45) 89 42 12 80, Fax: (+45) S6 13 98 39. (Back)

2 - Sergei Karaganov likes to depict a crisis in EU-Russia relations, see Rossiiskaya Gazeta, April 2nd, 2005 as reprinted by Johnsons Russia List # 9111. Not that I always agree with this or other diagnoses by this author although it is the second time I refer to him! (Back)

3 - See Flemming Splidsboel-Hansen, "Russias Relations with the European Union: A Constructivist Cut", International Politics, vol. 39: 399-421, December, 2002. (Back)

4 - D. Melnikov, ''Zapadnoevropeiskii tsentr imperializma", Mirovaia Ekonomika and Mezhdunarodnye Otnoshenia, no. 1,1972. (Back)

5 - Mark N. Katz, "Exploiting Rivalries for Prestige and Profit. An Assessment of Putins Foreign Policy Approach", Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 52, no. 3, May-June, 2005, pp. 25-26. (Back)

6 - See Skak, Mette (2005). "Russian Security Policy After 9/11", pp. 53-71 i Roger E. Kanet (ed.), The New Security Environment, The Impact on Russia, Central and Eastern Europe, Hants & Burlington; Ashgate. (Back)

7 - "The Foreign Policy concept of the Russian Federation, approved by the President of the Russian Federation V. Putin, 28 June 2000", www.mid.ru  . One could also quote then Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Igor Ivanov: "To be able to turn into a moving force for the formation of a new multipolar system of international relations, Europe should become a powerful independent entity." Mezhdunarodnaia Zhizn, No. 1, January, 2001. (Back)

8 - Rossiiskaia Gazeta, April 2nd 2005. (Back)

9 - /At this time of writing I cannot come up with the exact reference, so contact me later!/ Perhaps an even more interesting reference is the recent book by Mark Leonhard, Why Europe will rule the 21st Century (Fourth Estate Publishers, 2005) that makes the case for EUs rise to global pre-eminence on the basis of the subtle, but evidently non-provocative nature of its powers. He singles out the EU's law making capacity - the result of which is the acquis communautaire - as the strongest transformative weapon of our times. The American political scientist Charles Kupchan has a similar argument about EU strength. (Back)

10 - This was most powerfully argued by Robert Kagan in his famous Power and Weakness article a couple of years ago, see www.policyreview.org/JUNf02/kagan_print.html . (Back)

11 - See Splidsboel-Hansen, op.cit. (Back)

12 - See his contribution "European Union-Russia Relations, Transformation Through Integration", pp. 170-184 in Alexander J. Motyl, Blair A. Ruble and Lilia Shevtsova, Russias Engagement with the West Transformation and Integration in the Twenty-First Century, London & New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2005. The entire volume is most stimulating reading concerning both Russia's domestic transformation and its real options and interests in world affairs (as opposed to imagined ones). See my forthcoming review of the book in Slavic Review. (Back)

13 - Kux op.cit., p. 176. (Back)

14 - See Gazeta Wyborcza, Sept. 20th 2005. Cf. Vibeke Sperling, "I Polen er blikkenslageren fra Ukraine'', Sept. 22nd 2005, Politiken (A Danish daily). (Back)

15 - For instance, Russia's "energy weapon" cannot be used indiscriminately and forever as recent breakthroughs in the technology of hydrogen power seem to underline. (Back)

Skak Mette 2005  

: 05.07.16

© - 2004-2006