The clumsy strategy

¿ How Europe should manage friction with Russia?

This is not a surprise event. Disputes between the European Union and Russia have once again taken to the headlines, following the revelation of friction between Brussels and Moscow.

It’s not a surprise event. Disputes between the European Union and Russia have once again occupied the front pages of the newspapers, after frictions between Brussels and Moscow have once again been revealed.

The illegal annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine have severely affected bilateral political dialogue. As a result, some of the cooperation mechanisms have been temporarily frozen and sanctions have been adopted aimed at promoting a change in Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Since then, the landscape has become increasingly uncertain.

This time, the trigger is represented by the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalni, who must serve a two-and-a-half-year sentence, following a court proceeding initiated in 2014. In addition to the difficult picture is the strong repression by the Russian police and the detention of more than 4,000 people (on 31 January alone), who demanded the release of Navalni.

From these events, international reactions began to reach:

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described the ruling against the opposition leader as “perverse” and US Secretary of State Dominic Raab described the ruling against the opposition leader as “perverse” and the US Secretary of State for the United States and the United States. Antony Blinken said he was deeply concerned about Navalni.

For its part, the Council of Europe threatened to put sanctions on people related to these events. February 22 was established as the day on which the nature of sanctions would be defined.

The Russian response came very soon. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “We don’t want to isolate ourselves from world life, but we have to be prepared for it”.

He added: “If you want peace, get ready for war.”.

In short, Russia threatened to take action directly proportional to the nature of the sanctions applied by the European Union, which could create a problem that was no longer only political, but economic and trade in the region.

The reality is that Russia remains a natural partner for the EU and a strategic player in combating regional and global challenges.

In this way, the European Union is in a not comfortable area: it must manage a non-minor conflict, starting with a diplomatic relationship that has been worn out for many years and plays a strategic role for all the countries of the continent. Moreover, the geopolitical changes currently taking place in the world, in the United States, the Middle East and Asia, are forcing the European Union to raise a clear profile of how it will adjust to these changes.

The adjustment begins by assuming that Russia is the EU’s largest neighbor; cooperation and exchange relations are broad and relevant to both sides. Russia is a key player in the UN Security Council and, due to its history, geographical proximity and cultural links, is one of the key players in and around Europe.

Russia is also a major supplier of energy products to the EU and a large and dynamic market for goods and services, with considerable economic growth.

Many specialists believe that recent diplomatic events have revealed the – already known – “labyrinth of Russia and the European Union”.

In this article I would like to explain some ideas that could help to reduce the tension between the two actors; in short, as Ernesto Vale Carballés explains: “in geopolitical games there are neither good nor bad, all there is are interests”.

Go for it:

¿ What options the EU has?

The European Union must promote pragmatic management. The visit to Russia by Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative on Foreign Policy, became a resounding failure. Part of the result is due to a clear fact: Russia has no interest in aligning itself with European regulatory structures.

Another factor is added to this reality: the EU is now more dependent on Russia than Russia on the EU, so it is understood that the European Council has very little transactional power with Moscow. 

For economic reasons, the EU will most likely not put tough sanctions on the Russians. At the meeting on 22 February, European foreign ministers decided to draw up a list of people to be financially punished. However, they have recognized the impossibility of “including influential millionaires,” as requested by Navalni’s followers.

Everything indicates that, within the EU’s options, one of the strongest is to sit and listen to Russia’s approaches and not the other way around. This scenario becomes much stronger with the unfortunate complications and shameful delay in the vaccination process of European countries. The continent is extremely in need of a mass-produced vaccine that can arrive quickly: given the context, it seems that the best option is Sputnik (Russian-made).

The Covid-19 crisis has made the problem of diplomatic relations between Russia and the European Union more dramatic.

Russia also doesn’t want to lose its best buyer

According to BBC figures, 70% of the oil that Russia exports to the world is going to Europe. The same goes for gas: 65% of its production goes to European countries – which import half of the energy they consume.

Many specialists and members of the European Council consider that Russia’s extensive exports to the EU have generated an increasingly strong relationship of dependence, especially in the Eastern European and Central European countries.

Such is the impact of this reality that last year, Mike Pompeo, a former US Secretary of State, had announced that the US would not be able to do so. U.S. was seeking to finance $1 billion energy projects in Central and Eastern European countries so that supported states reduce their energy dependence on Russia.

“In support of the sovereignty, prosperity and energy independence of our European friends, the United States intends to agree up to $1 billion in funding to central and eastern European countries,” Pompeo said at the 2020 Munich Security Conference.

While there is clear dependence on Russia, Moscow does not at all want to lose 54% of its export revenue and have to deli into a rather complicated problem: going out looking for how to finance 47% of the Russian federal budget represented by these exports.

For this reason, Russia also does not want to strain relations with the European Union. The political, social and economic cost could be very uncomfortable for Putin. From there, it is sensed that Moscow will stand firm in its defense against criticism of human rights violations; however, care will be taken to bring to the extreme a conflict that would lead to significant losses for all.

Germany: the key player in the future of Moscow-Brussels relations

In the face of this diplomatic labyrinth, Germany’s future will be a decisive element. Angela Merkel has been very strategic in Europe’s relations with Russia; however, she has already announced that this year she will withdraw from politics. Everything seems to be his replacement will be Armin Laschet, the new leader of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (UDC) party.

Laschet has excelled at his knowledge of EU international relations, especially ties with Russia. The UDC leader has shown himself to be a pragmatic politician and is expected to take relations with Russia from the field of conciliation.

Due to her power of influence in the EU, Angela Merkel’s potential replacement in the German government will play a key role in restoring deteriorating EU-Russia relations.

By the blowing winds, the key to the future of these relationships lies in the search for understanding and conciliation; only then will the relations of two neighbors who seem doomed to share interests move forward.

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