Conference “Post-Crimea shift in EU-Russia Relations” – 11th July 2019

Conference “Post-Crimea shift in EU-Russia Relations” – 11th July 2019

On thursday the 11th of July 2019, the Estonian foreign policy institute, international center for defence and security and Konrad Adenauer shifting were organizing a conference about the book Post Crimea shift in EU-Russia relations: from fostering interdependence to managing vulnerabilities. The authors of the book are Kristi Raik & Andras Rácz.

The introduction words were pronounced by Rein Rammsaar, the Estonian representative of the Political and security Committee of the European Union and by Hardy Ostry, Head of office of the Konrad Adenauer stiftung.

They said the shift on Crimea is still relevant in the analysis of today’s politics. Moreover, they explained that the European Union (EU) now has a better understanding of how to deal with this question. After the Crimea crisis, collective efforts were done thanks to the involvement of the different European institutions. Under this perspective, the Crimea crisis  is a significant event when analysing both the European common response to a political crisis and the EU-Russia relationship on the international stage.

During the conference, each of the speakers explained the key features of the chapters they wrote in the book. 

Kristi Rain, Senior Fellow at the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, ICDS.

The first speaker was Kristi Rain, Senior Fellow at the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute. She explained that she decided to write about this topic because there was a need to establish deeper discussions on the EU-Russian relations and to analyze the concrete consequences of the Crimea crisis.

From the European point of view, she explained that the situation is encouraging because there is a unity on sanctions and because an agreement on five principles on EU-Russia relations was established. This means that the EU stands with credibility against Russian external policy. It is even more impressive since, before the Crimea crisis, the EU position on Ukraine was debated and brought a lot of frustration.

Then, she explained that the crisis underlined EU-Russia of political interdependence. She mentioned that the current EU-Russia policy was inspired by the former German-EU « ostpolitik », which means that the relationship is based on peace-building, using economic engagement to promote stability.

On the Russian side, she argues that there is a the prioritization of security issues over economic rationality, which is shown by the annexation of Crimea despite the threat of European sanctions. She said that there is a need to take a new look at the interdependence between the EU and Russia.

However, the EU-Russia relation is not a positive interdependence. Economic interactions can contribute to stability but are not sufficient. Other elements, such as a common normative basis are needed. The EU depends on Russian energy, whereas the Russian financial sector is dependent on the West and is still vulnerable. In the absence of common normative expectation, the interdependence brings more tensions than peaceful interactions. She emphasized the strategic competition between the EU and Russia, qualifying it as a normative competition, with Russia being unsatisfied with the security order that the EU is attempting to establish.

The European approaches towards Russia are focusing on the democratization of this country. However it has very limited possibilities to influence their domestic system.

On the Russian side, the accent is put on the supposed failure of liberal democracy model.

The EU and Russia are depending on each other in five distinct fields: energy, trade, financial sector, defence industry and cross-border cooperation. For both EU and Russia, the goal is to decrease vulnerabilities and reduce dependencies. Nonetheless, Kristi Rain said that in certain fields the EU-Russia relation was less of an interdependence and more of an asymmetric relation.

She also described some sectoral developments, where there is cooperation between the EU and Russia.

About trade, there is a limited interdependence except for the energy sector in which there are still strong ties responsible for tensions. On this issue, the EU is weakened by the member states’ bilateral pursuit of national energy interests that diverge from a shared EU energy policy.

On the field of defence industry, the links have been severely reduced due to political confrontation and sanctions. Russia is therefore focusing on autarky.

Finally, on cross-border cooperation, the crisis had a negative impact with the rise of political tensions, but it remains a useful instrument in building practical cooperation.

The consequences of the Crimea crisis were disastrous for the Russian industrial sector, namely because of the European sanctions. For instance, Russia needs Western technological import and is now suffering from not having access to Ukrainian and European defence industries. Concerning the financial sector, the Western sanctions have also highlighted Russia’s vulnerability and led Russia to make some effort to reduce its dependency.

Andras Racz, non-resident fellow of the Estonian Foreign policy institute, ICDS and Associate professor at the Pázmány Peter catholic university, Budapest.

Andras Racz explained that there is still an interdependence between the EU and Russia and that, five years after the Crimea crisis, some conclusions can be drawn. He wrote two particular chapters of the book, the first one being about the cross border cooperation between Russia and the EU and the second one being about police cooperation.

On police cooperation he said the implemented policy was relatively efficient since it has proven to be operative in some cases. However, it still suffers from serious deficiencies.

On cross-border cooperation, his views are even more nuanced, he said that not all the projects failed but that few of them only succeeded thanks to some Russians supporters who have an influence over cross border cooperation projects.

Then, Andras Racz mentioned the chapter about trade interdependence. In all the other sectors, he said that the EU-Russia relation shouldn’t be qualified as interdependence but as an asymmetry. In fact, the EU is more important to Russia than Russia is to the EU in the trade sector -except in the crucial energical sector.

He explained that the difficulties come from the differences in expectations between the EU and Russia. According to him, the EU should diversify and reduce its dependency on particular countries and roads. The EU has to adapt because, he said, Russia is not going to change.

James Sherr, senior fellow of the Estonian Foreign Policy

James Sherr explained his chapter: Russia’s views on interdependence, the security dimension. According to him, the West failed to anticipate the political development of Russia. James Sherr said that, during the second half of the 90’s, when Putin came in power, Russia increased its distinctive interests. Russia can also influence elsewhere than in the former Soviet Union.

In addition, according to the dominant school of thought in Russia, the Western approach is a threat, a danger to the Russian government credibility. He explains in his chapter that before the events of Crimea, there was a promotion of the western democracy toward a enlargement with NATO and the EU. The EU is a project of integration, of promotion of rules, norms, values, and democracy. Its normative power which promoting a liberal model can be seen as a serious threat for Putin’s autocratic power from a Russian perspective.

Rein Rammsaar, Estonian representative to the Political and security committee of the European Union, Ministry of foreign affairs in Estonia

Rein Rammsaar explained that his chapter focuses mainly on what the EU did since 2014 to reduce vulnerability by building resilience- meaning: the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.

In this perspective of resilience building, Rein Rammsaar explained the significant steps taken by the EU in three areas which are hybrid responses, cyber responses and strategic communication.

He also mentioned the constant Russian criticism towards the EU. He explained that, in response, the EU should do much more collectively, but that the member states should also increase their efforts individually. As an example of poor response capacities from the EU he used the recent problem on cybersecurity when the Russian intelligence penetrated EU institutions. Rein Rammsaar emphasised the fact that the war in Ukraine and Crimea accelerated the erosion of the relationship between Russia and the EU. In addition, in his chapter, he reaffirms the existence of a pragmatic shift in European external policy. For him, this reflects the evolution of the European global strategy. Finally, Rein Rammsaar concluded by saying that the priority fort both Russia and the European states should be to increase resilience.

Then, a question was asked about the place for values and international law in EU approaches to Russia ?

The answer to this question was that the EU already managed to impose coherent sanctions to Russia. However, there is a pressure to improve the application of EU principles, especially since there is no new united  « Ostpolitik » vis-a-vis Russia. Russia has its proper concept of threats, experience, history. Nevertheless, if the EU is alone, it is hard to maintain its position. The EU is not doing bad, it has to adapt and adjust and doing so should bring the EU more success. The aim is now to extend the coherence between member states’ sanctions in order to have a global political attitude toward Russia.

Public concerns were also directed toward the Russian power of systemic corruption inside the EU. For the experts, this power is real, and it is clear that some Russian officials enjoy using it. The will for changing this situation does come only from the European side, Russia having no interest in changing its behaviour. It appear as a necessity for the EU to focus on sanctions on corrupted individuals in order to increase the cost of corruption and build a real disincentive policy.

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