It is time for a fundamental rethink of the EU’s Russia policy. Europeans need to approach the Russians on European terms while remaining fully aware that Russians have their own interests, values, and terms of reference. The issue for the EU is not what the Europeans want Russia to be or to become. Instead, Europeans should think about what they want or need from Russia in the short and longer term as well as whether and how this is achievable.  

By the end of the year, the EU will have new Presidents of the European Council (Donald Tusk), the European Commission (Jean Claude Juncker), and the European Parliament (Martin Schulz). It will also have a new Foreign Policy High Representative (Federica Mogherini), who can upgrade the quality of its key foreign policy and diplomatic institutions, such as the European External Action Service. These changes will provide an opportunity for strategic leadership to emerge in the EU.

A key goal of the EU’s revised Russian policy should be to preserve the EU-Russian relationship , which is mutually beneficial in a wide range of areas.

1. Recognizing the economic interdependence of Russia and the EU. Russia does not have an alternative trading partner that would be able to replace the integrated Europe. The EU countries have no alternative to Russian fuel supplies, particularly natural gas.

2. Recognizing the mutual interest of Russia and the EU in social and political stability. In contemporary conditions, Russia and the EU, which are immediate neighbours, are much like communicating vessels. In other words, neither the Schengen agreement nor any other barriers can stop the virus of social disease, ethnic conflict, religious intolerance, crime and so forth spreading between their borders. Any efforts to counter these threats will be effective only if Russia and the EU establish very close cooperation.

3. Recognizing the common interest of both Russia and the EU in ensuring security in Europe and adjacent regions. Security must cover all aspects, including the aforementioned social and political imperatives, the supply of energy and other resources. These security measures must also cover environmental protection, crisis management, not to mention the struggle against international terrorism, which is threatening to plunge the entire international community into chaos.

4. Recognizing that Russia and the EU share the need for a stable system of international relations, crisis management methods, not to mention the UN’s role in these efforts.

Given the current state of affairs between Brussels and Moscow, adopting specific, practical measures to increase EU-Russian contact is more likely to improve relations e.g. increasing   non-governmental contacts, particularly between businesses and individuals, removing unnecessary obstacles in customs-clearing procedures, working on the technical standards that govern trade, and improving conditions for cross-border travel are the areas that require the most attention.  Possibly, an EU-Russia Public Forum could be established and serve as a  high level platform for regular meetings of the nongovernmental organizations. This would provide the venue for discussing vital issues of cooperation (science, business, legal matters, government relations etc.) and working out recommendations for Russian and European officials and policymakers for the challenges that affect Russia-EU relations. The activities of the EU-Russia Public Forum would be sustained through the generous support of private foundations, corporations, governments and individuals on both the Russian and EU side.

Even those EU member states most reluctant to improve ties with Russia would do themselves, and the EU, a big service if they adopted a more open and constructive attitude toward Moscow.

The new EU leaders should engage Russia and its partners in the Eurasian integration project in a dialogue on the future of relations between Brussels and Moscow and between the EU and the Eurasian Union. Europe finds it difficult to be of one mind, or to speak with one voice, when it comes to Russia. It should seek, however, to ensure that its policy is not the lowest common denominator of national approaches. It should also avoid a situation in which Russia sees a relationship with the entire EU as laden with restrictions but views bilateral relationships with individual EU member states as offering opportunities.



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