How does Russia affect Europe?
The famous Russian film director, Alexandr Sokourov, noted in one of his interviews: “We know and love Europe more than she loves us.” In these days of clashes in Ukraine, a major issue deals with the positioning of Russia and the European Union as they will presumably affect the results of the conflict. This opposition between the European Union and Russia was evident in the context of the summit that was held on January 28 in Brussels. But, what are these tensions? How could Russia and the European Union reach such a power struggle? One day, will Russia join Europe, and, therefore the European Union?
A History of Russia and Europe
First of all, from a historical perspective and from the eighteenth century, the Ural mountains and the Ural River served as a boundary for the European continent. In fact, Moscow, was later enhanced as a European city and not as an Asian city. Thus, Russia belongs to Europe and turned to the West.
Since the end of the WWII, the word “Europe” has conquered worlds that are not only geographical but also political, involving notions of values or solidarity. Beyond this geographical nature, then we can interrogate the nature of the expansion of the European Union reaching the border of the Urals.
Actually, this issue has not appeared until the end of Communism, as the Soviet Union manifested its domination in Eastern Europe. But since the fall of Communism and the enlargement of the Union, this enquiry concerning the delimitation of our European continent began. Therefore, this separation East/West has enabled many countries to come into the mould of Western Europe. Such is the case of Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia or the Baltic countries.
If these countries were able to enter the EU, why does the geographical criterion does not apply to Russia?
A Russian opinion based on fears of marginalization
In the Russian case, the Kremlin fears are based on its peripheral location in relation to other countries of the Union. Therefore, the idea of a wall, of a separation comes to the minds of the Russian elites, wishing not to be excluded and marginalized in a unification process of Europe.
Over the time, these two blocks have developed a series of opposing policy. In the ‘90s, Europe has created a “neighbourhood policy”, with the aim to secure its periphery by participating in the development of its neighbours. On the other side, Russia has put into place the doctrine of the “near abroad”, according to which all States sharing borders with it, are part of its sphere of interest.
Similarly speaking of the relations between Russia and the EU, we should talk about intra-European relations: Western and Eastern. But it should also be commented that the relationship between Russia and the EU is complicated by the fact that we now live in different “eras”. Western European countries situate themselves in a post-national developmental stage, where nations play a less significant role. Indeed, other principles unite the peoples of the EU, based on values, but also based on community building and European citizenship, and based on economy by developing a free trade. Thus, within the European Union, we can move and settle in our own way. But some Eastern European countries live in an era that is still marked by the strong existence of nationalism.
The European Union must act
Although the former leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, visualized the relations between Russia and the EU as a “common European home”, the present day reality outlines a different scenario. On one side, the European Union has a significant place in the world being recognized for its values and principles. On the other side, in Russia today the human rights and values are struggling to create a democratic system, while the Russian leaders are preoccupied to regain control and spread influence through energy and gas partnerships.
The European Union will be understood, but a little later, seeing shattered its Eastern Partnership project. In Vilnius, last year, six former Soviet republics had to sign an association agreement and free trade agreement with Brussels. Six initially, only two on arrival: Moldova and Georgia. Belarus and Azerbaijan drew back. Armenia, knowing it from the month of September, preferred to focus on its relationship with Moscow. As for Ukraine, again at the heart of insurgency sequence, once again torn between its attachment to “Russia” and its “attraction for the West”.
Add to this the Turkish case. Starting accession negotiations with this country means that the point of reference for membership extends the ideal concept of Europe beyond geography boundaries. Therefore, the interrogation of the accession of Russia into the European Union can have its meaning.
This vocation of accession may be done by taking into account European values established by Brussels, values that already block the entry of Turkey. Brussels stresses its law and values, but Russia does not want to pay attention to.