Guest Lecture: Russia’s Perception of the EU and Its Member States

On 4 March 2010 SPES fellow Dr. Stanislav Secrieru gave a guest lecture to students of the Master programme in “Advanced European and Inter­na­tional Studies” organized by the Centre Inter­na­tional de Formation Européenne (CIFE). The lecture’s title corre­sponded to Secrieru’s research in the SPES programme, namely “Russia’s Perception of the EU and Its Member States.”
Secrieru started by explaining why percep­tions matter in general and in the EU-Russia relations in parti­cular. As he empha­sized, percep­tions are important as they shape actors’ policy actions. The empirical interest in percep­tions is even more relevant in the case of Russia, as it matches the causal weight Russia attaches to this factor in inter­na­tional affairs.

Firstly, Secrieru elabo­rated on the overall viewpoint of Russia on Europe. Moscow sees the enlarged EU as weakened in terms of cohesion, which is exhibited by the increased appetite for protec­tionist measures in the times of the economic crisis, as well as by the diffi­culties in the ratifi­cation of the Lisbon Treaty. In Moscow’s view, insti­tu­tional blockages and the lack of a clear perspective on the way forward make the EU unable to set strategic goals. As Secrieru put it, there are also areas in which the EU is a compe­titive foreign policy actor in the Russian view. These include mediation of conflicts, environ­mental protection and the attrac­tiveness of the political and economic models as means to influence the near abroad. In dealing with the EU, Russia rejects the paradigm of ‘asymmetric inclusion’ and demands equality, jointly agreed rules and cease of the EU’s demandeur approach. Secrieru finally added that Russia prefers the EU to be feeble, however strong enough to create some kind of counter balance to the US.

The second part of the lecture concerned specific policy domains, i.e. energy as well as the Eastern Partnership. Secrieru stated that Russia uses energy as a tool in its relations with the EU in order to correct economic asymmetry and foster more equal relati­onship with the EU. The EU’s strategy of securing gas deliveries, including the construction of the trans-Caspian and the Nabucco pipelines, is seen by Russia as a challenge to its position in the post-Soviet space and an attempt to switch the regional balance in energy relations to the EU’s favour. Moreover, the EU’s Third Energy Package is perceived as limiting Russian invest­ments in Europe and dictating how to regulate operation of energy companies on the domestic market. Secrieru added that Russia is trying to switch from being a norm-taker to norm-maker, as can be seen on the example of the rejection of the Energy Charter Treaty in 2009 and the proposal of a new legally binding inter­na­tional agreement in the energy field. Russia also seeks to strengthen the energy producers’ position by intro­ducing a principle of ‘security demand’ which would limit the consumer options to choose or change the supplier. Other Russian objec­tives in this regard include having a say in EU diver­si­fi­cation projects, facili­tating the imple­men­tation of its own infra­st­ructure projects, and providing access to the much needed know-how in the energy field.

The European Neigh­bourhood Policy is perceived by Russia as incon­sistent, weak and lacking concrete ideas. However, Secrieru pointed to the fact that the attitude of Russia has changed consi­derably since the intro­duction of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) in 2009. The EaP is seen as an initiative, which was cooked in the labora­tories of those EU member states that are hostile to Russia as a reaction to the 2008 short war in the South Caucasus. Moscow regards EaP as an attempt to softly eliminate Russian influence from the post-Soviet space.
The last part of Secrieru’s lecture was devoted to Russia’s bilateral relations. He pointed out a Russian catego­ri­zation of EU member states into three clusters. To the first one, the ‘psycho­lo­gi­cally compa­tible’ partners, belong Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus. Of course the relati­onships are not free of sporadic tensions and mild suspicion, however, strong political relations and military coope­ration are maintained and dialogue with civil society is insti­tu­tio­na­lized. The second group, the ‘utili­ta­rians’, comprises of Bulgaria, Nether­lands, Finland, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Luxem­bourg, Slovenia (enthu­si­astic utili­ta­rians) as well as Ireland, Malta, Belgium, Portugal (apathetic utili­ta­rians). In the case of the latter, Russia would like to engage in the economic field, but Moscow’s efforts are not always recipro­cated. Relations with the former are based mainly on Russian oil and gas deliveries as well as the struggle for greater access to the Russian market. The third category, ‘Phantoms of the Past Illness’ includes the UK, the Baltic republics, Sweden, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Denmark. Political dialogue with these states at the high level is often unstable and purpo­se­fully limited. Despite the frosty political atmos­phere, invest­ments of these countries in Russia have flourished. Moscow, however, regards these countries as extremely suspi­cious about Russian invest­ments or projects in Europe as well as Russian foreign and security policies.

Secrieru concluded his lecture by stating that Moscow is looking down on Europe. According to him, this outlook is partially a product of self-confi­dence powered by a decade of sustained economic growth, which has not been signi­fi­cantly affected by the recent economic recession.
Von: Malgorzata Wojcik