Expert Workshop: EU, Russia and the common neighbourhood

v.l.n.r. Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, Dr. Stanislav Secrieru, Dr. Susan Stewart

Am 26. März 2010 veranstaltete das IEP einen Expertenworkshop zum Thema “EU, Russia and the common neighbourhood“. Die Veranstaltung fand im Rahmen des “Study Programme on European Security“ (SPES) statt und wurde von Dr. Katrin Böttger und Mariella Falkenhain (wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterinnen, IEP) moderiert .

Weaknesses of the ‚Russian Neighbourhood Policy‘

The first presentation was given by Dr Andras Racz, SPES fellow and researcher at the Strategic Defense Studies Center of the Zrinyi Miklos National Defense University, Budapest. After having highlighted historical ties between the post-Soviet states and Russia, Racz pointed to Russia’s desire to defend its current political and economic as well as security and defence related interests. These Russian interests include, among other things, preserving influence on domestic political developments in the neighbourhood countries, protecting its own energy sector from competition and preventing further NATO enlargement. In order to achieve these goals, Russia uses assertive and cooperative measures that range from carrying out a policy of ‘coordinated integration’ (a fact that can be deduced from the abundance of Russia-dominated organizations in the CIS area), through differentiated energy prices and taking over strategic companies, to mediating conflicts (Karabakh) or preserving their status quo (Transnistria).
Racz’s main argument concerned the manifold weaknesses in the Russian approach to its near abroad. First of all, Russia lacks an attractive political offer and a strategic agenda concerning its near abroad, as it intends to prevent developments from happening without offering any alternative. The post-Soviet states rely on Russia only if there is no better choice, as in the case of Armenia and Belarus, and voluntary approximation is rare. Secondly, Russia is not offering a viable value background. Whereas the promotion of Russian nationalism and identity is primarily a political rather than an ideological tool, the concept of ‘sovereign democracy’ is only used to legitimize the Russian domestic political system abroad, and not to promote values in the neighbourhood. Finally, Russia lacks a system of conditionality as well as an official coordinated policy towards its near abroad. Racz accentuated the fact that carrots and sticks are used on a rather ad hoc basis, and, even if contractual relationships are set, they are not coordinated. Thus, Russian conditionality is entirely unpredictable for the partner countries. Moreover, as soft power tools are lacking, Russia has no other choice but to use hard power measures. This, however, weakens its leverage, which can be seen due to the fact that most countries today are no longer pro-Russian but rather try to achieve a policy balance between Russia and the EU.

In the following discussion, Racz described the impact of this situation on the future of both the EU and Russia. In his opinion, Russia will lose influence in the long term. By contrast, the EU’s soft power will be strengthened. Moreover, Racz pointed to differences between the EU and Russia on a discursive level: Notions such as ‘common’ or ‘shared’ neighbourhood which are characteristic for the EU discourse are not included in the Russian one where a much more ‘unidirectional’ vocabulary is used (e.g. the Russian ‘near abroad’).
Moscow’s perception of the Eastern Partnership: Squeezing out Russia from the post- Soviet space
The next speaker, SPES fellow and associate researcher at the Centre for East-European and Asian Studies in Bucharest, Dr Stanislav Secrieru, followed up on the importance of language for the study of the EU-Russia relations. He presented an analysis about Russian perceptions of the EU’s policies towards its Eastern neighbourhood.
Focusing on the mainstream thinking in Russia, his findings were deduced from official declarations, speeches and interviews with/by the political elite, official policy documents as well as reports and articles by think tanks that are close to various segments of power.
As Europeanization is the ultimate goal of these policies, observing the Russian viewpoint on them can, according to Secrieru, prove useful in anticipating the obstacles that Moscow might erect in order to limit the transformative power of the EU.

According to Russia, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was inconsistent, weak and lacked concrete ideas. However, at the same time, the policy served as a wake up call for Russia in terms of becoming aware of the EU’s efforts to influence Russia’s near abroad. As Secrieru pointed out, Russia’s attitude shifted considerably when the Eastern Partnership (EaP) was introduced in 2009. According to the Kremlin, the EaP was – as a reaction to the 2008 war in Georgia – initiated by those EU member states who are less friendly towards Russia. Thus, Moscow identified several risks associated with the EU’s attempt to extend its sphere of influence, including the complete elimination of Russia from its post-Soviet sphere of influence.
As Secrieru put it, many in Europe believed that, as it has a better image in Russia than NATO, the EU would not encounter any resistance from Moscow. However, although EaP has produced hardly any results yet, Russia expects it to show its teeth in the years to come. If successful, Secrieru emphasized, the initiative could change the behaviour of Russia’s immediate neighbours unfavourably, worsening the Kremlin’s already strained relations with some of them. The respective states could then use the EaP to bolster their bargaining power in relations with Moscow. Moreover, the EU’s support for institution building could strengthen the post-Soviet states from the inside, which is the opposite of what Russia considers a favourable situation. EaP is also expected to encourage a more intensive projection of the EU’s soft power in the eastern neighbourhood. Moscow explains the programme’s primary focus on ‘low politics’ by the EU’s aspiration to drag the post-Soviet states into its supranational governance sphere. On the other hand, the Kremlin foresees a possible shift towards ‘high politics’, which would bind the post-Soviet states to the EU’s foreign and security policies. The discussion of Secrieru’s statement highlighted inter alia the ambiguities of Russian perceptions: Although the EU is, in general, described as a weak and dysfunctional external actor, it is seen as a competitive actor in Russia’s near abroad.
On this note, the goal conflicts in the EU’s relations towards its Eastern neighbours, that are highlighted by several European scholars, do not feature in Russia’s perceptions.

Russia‘s impact on the transformative power of the EU: Spoiling, shaping or supporting the diffusion of European ideas?
Esther Ademmer, PhD student at the Berlin Graduate School for Transnational Studies, complemented the previous presentations by outlining the theoretical discourse on the transformative power of Europe and Russia’s potential impact on it. First, and without taking the Russian factor into account, Ademmer explained conditions and mechanisms of successful EU-rule transfer. As she stated, there are two complementary schools of thought in this regard: Rationalist Institutionalism and Sociological Institutionalism. Whereas the former highlights the importance of conditionality for successful Europeanization, the latter stresses socialization as the relevant mechanism to establish compliance. More precisely, rational actors follow the logic of consequentialism, i.e. they weigh costs and benefits of reform processes. Conditions for success include credible material incentives provided by the EU, such as political, economic and financial assistance, as well as material misfit and veto players on the demand side. Socialization, on the other hand, assumes that norm-guided actors follow the logic of appropriateness, thus choosing the most legitimate rule. In order to achieve compliance, a normative attractiveness on the supply side of Europeanization needs to be complemented by the existence of norm-entrepreneurs and a normative misfit on the part of the partner countries. Thus, as Ademmer put it, EU-rule transfer can be explained as a bilateral endeavour, where a mixture of conditions from both demand and supply side produce an outcome of (non-)compliance with EU norms and rules on the part of the partner countries.

Ademmer emphasized, however, that the EU-rule transfer in the Eastern neighbourhood does not happen in a vacuum bubble, but rather is also influenced by an intervening variable – Russia. Russia can potentially impact on EU conditionality by influencing policy misfits and veto-players (by, for example, threatening to apply sanctions or withhold support). Russia may also change governmental cost-benefit analysis by providing exit options and therefore causing higher transformation costs. In this case, compliance with EU norms would be more costly and less likely. Next, Ademmer went on to explain Russia’s potential impact on socialization. As she put it, Russia may influence normative misfits and norm-entrepreneurs through actively appealing to Soviet legacies, making governmental actors consider them more legitimate than the European ones. Moreover, Russia can change the logic of appropriateness by offering more legitimate solutions to the neighbourhood countries.
In this case, compliance would be less appropriate and thus, also less likely. Ademmer concluded by stating that her theoretical findings would be complemented by first empirical findings concerning the cases of Armenia and Georgia: Russia matters in the Europeanization processes in the near abroad. In cases of norm divergence, it hampers the transformative power of Europe by influencing both instruments of EU-rule transfer.

The discussions that followed combined the theoretical and the policy oriented approaches. The question of the intentionality of Russia’s actions to hinder the transformative power of the EU, raised by Ademmer, was especially controversial. According to Racz, the relevant question is not whether Russia’s actions are, in principle, intentional or not but whether they are consciously directed against EU interests.