June 27, 2008
New Priorities But Steadfast Dependence.
After the Soviet collapse, the government and ordinary Russians initially saw the European Union as a benign role model and an example of best practices in public and business administration. This attitude was reflected in the 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which was signed to cover 10 years but is designed to be automatically extended unless one side walks out.
Over the years, others agreements have also promised closer ties. In 1996, Russia joined the Council of Europe, the continent's main human rights watchdog, and became obliged to comply to rulings made by the European Court of Human Rights. Russia signed off in 2005 on the creation of four common spaces -- in freedom, justice, security and the economy -- with the EU, although the roads to these spaces have yet to be walked.
As of last year, Russia and the EU had held 14 policy dialogues on issues ranging from democracy and human rights to culture, energy, trade, investments and visa facilitation. These political contacts were underpinned by rapidly increasing people-to-people contacts and booming trade and investment.
But the past several years have seen Russia's perception of the EU's role in the world undergo a serious change. No longer does the Kremlin perceive the EU as a fully benign actor with whom it can pursue a fully constructive relationship.
The changes in Russia's perception are rooted in its own economic and political resurgence and the EU's increasingly bold activities on former Soviet territory, which Moscow traditionally has considered to be within the zone of its vital interests. Russia's and the EU's interests diverge when it comes to the diversification of oil and gas exports from the former Soviet Union and the extent of the liberalization of internal energy markets. Russia is vying for downstream assets, while the EU is striving for involvement in major exploration projects and the liberalization of Russia's domestic energy market.
But the sides share interests in nonproliferation, the fight against illegitimate trans-border flows, and preventing so-called "frozen conflicts" from heating up and facilitating their eventual resolution. There is also a mutual economic dependence. The EU depends on Russia for about a third of its gas needs and is at the same time Russia's largest trading partner. This dependency will not change any time soon.
The fact that there is both a divergence and convergence of interests makes the relationship complex and difficult to manage, especially given the anti-Moscow sentiments that sometimes are raised by former Soviet allies that have become EU members. Moscow also has reacted sharply at times toward these new EU members.
But both sides should bear in mind that their emotions should not be allowed to turn the relationship into a zero-sum game. Both sides should try to find ways to add value for their mutual benefit when they negotiate a new EU-Russia partnership at the summit in Khanty-Mansiisk on Friday.