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.