An analysis of the political relations between Russia and EU


The end of the Soviet Union brought new hopes for the newly formed Russian Federation and the European Union to move towards a relation based on trade and common interests. As a result, the times of animosity and rivalry were deemed to be over. However, as situations started to change in EU’s policy of expansionism along with NATO’s. This significantly challenged the existing unsteady relations of Moscow and the West at the time. Starting with the Yugoslav wars, Georgian war and the ongoing Ukrainian crisis all put the prospective relationship of Russia and EU into a debacle. Nevertheless, the key interests of uninterrupted trade of natural resources along with other products and security concerns have made this relation one of the most complicated in the current international sphere.

The recent political stance of the major EU countries such as Germany, Britain and France has been quite cynical of Moscow’s reactions in Eastern Europe and abroad catalysed by the Georgia and Ukraine incidents. To analyse the core perspectives of this rather strange political relation between the two sides, it is important to grasp the recent events that helped shape the current paradigm. Following that it is equally important to analyse the prospects of mutual understanding based on commerce and regional security which are on halt in the mainstream political sphere of these two parties. The rather opposing stances of these two sides on most occasions in the international arena have arguably made them adversaries instead of partners in political terms.

Partnership and economic prospects:

Right after the fall of Soviet Union, Russia signed the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) an unprecedented agreement with EU in 1994. This agreement was viewed as a continuation of the Helsinki Final Act signed by the Communist Bloc and the Western Countries in 1975 it was a symbolic agreement for peace. However, this new agreement primarily focused on an increased economic connectivity, trade and investments within Europe. As a result this was seen as a prospective sign for an emergent relation between Russia and the EU. This agreement was signed for 10 years and because of its nature it has been automatically renewed if another agreement did not replace it.

As a consequence, many Russian businesses face very low restrictions in the EU marketplace and trade between the two sides is promoted by the respective governments. Consequently, it is also reflected on the more prominent energy industry that saw a major increase in investments from Russian energy companies into Europe and vice versa. Furthermore the food and farming industry has seen a greater trade between Russia and EU member states. Evidently these are signs of an increased level of mutual economic reliance between Russia and EU. However, there are some criticisms to this agreement in particular it is argued to be a symbolic agreement instead of being a defining one. The demand for EU’s products and Russian energy were always in trade during and prior to the Soviet era. However, the significance was that the Soviet collapse allowed a more fluid trading regime between the two sides without much restrictions and promoted a somewhat more stable political relation between them.

A brief security and structural issues:

The Russian Federation lead by Boris Yeltsin right after the fall of the Soviet Union looked like a prospective trade partner of the EU. Since EU heavily relied on Russian gas and oil, it looked as if the trade between the two sides would further diversify in the coming future. However, as Yeltsin’s absence from Russian politics in the earlier days of the Federation gave control to the Russian Oligarchs who acquired the formerly state-owned oil and gas companies. Subsequently, these oligarchs influenced Russian policies with their own interest at heart and thus causing Yeltsin to be less effective in the state matters within the Federation further damaging prospects of EU and Russia’s political relations to develop. Hence, this caused resentment towards the Oligarchs who were only seen as self-serving.  As a result the EU seemed to be in a stronger position as its Russian counterparts were weakened with an ineffective government and a powerful self-serving group of oligarchs.

Therefore, this gave motivation for EU to expand and attain membership of states that were considered to be in the sphere of Russia’s influence, along with NATO expansions this put Russia in a declining position in Europe and the international arena. It is evident that the policies of NATO do have significance in the EU member state’s decision making however EU is independent from NATO’s decision making. As a consequence, Russia turned into an energy supplier for the EU while not being considered a significant power in the Yeltsin era. The EU at this stage started to take greater influence in the Eastern European regions as the memberships of formerly Warsaw Pact countries opting to join for obvious economic benefits. Also arguably for the fear of being isolated and the events of Yugoslav wars presented a threat to standing against the uni-polar order of that time.

The Yugoslav wars caused the initial dent in the prospective relations of the Russian Federation and the EU which helped shape the current opposing stance between the two. In particular, after the NATO bombings of Belgrade during the Kosovo war positioned the Russians in opposition to the position of the EU for the first time since the end of the Cold War. As Western friendly and rather ineffective President Yeltsin resigned, he was replaced by the then unknown Vladimir Putin. Since then the outward political relations with the EU has not recovered as such. However, it is vital to mention the relations between Russia and EU as a whole has not been friendly due to conflicting interests however some member states have a better economic relation with Russia bilaterally as this was mentioned by the Russian Professor Irina Busygina of Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations.

The political relation was further aggravated with the conflicts in Georgia and more recently Ukraine.  As a consequence the EU has introduced economic sanctions on the Russian Federation further complicated the political relations between the two parties. The Russian intervention in Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia was justified as a counter to the Kosovo intervention both argued on the basis of humanitarian cause. This shows the current Russian position of retaliatory reaction to EU member state’s interventionism. One of the prime examples is the Western funded and assisted Colour Revolutions against Russia-friendly governments in Georgia and Ukraine in order to replace them with more Eurocentric regimes has not been taken lightly by the Russians.

This was evident when some EU members supported the coup against the legally elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovyc and a subsequent replacement by a vehement anti-Russian oligarch Petro Poroshenko. This change was taken positively in the EU as signs of agreements were signed with the new Ukrainian regime. However in Russia this caused huge inconveniences as this lead to the Ukrainian civil war and was further escalated into the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and subsequent support for separatists in in Luhansk and Doneshk. The Russian and EU political relations as a consequence hit an all time low with the escalation of these conflicts.

Russia’s security challenges near its border and EU’s adversarial position:

The governments prior to the EU supported coups in Georgia, Ukraine opted to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the more recent Euroasian Union instead of the EU, and they were on the verge of signing agreements with Russia instead of the EU. Nonetheless, this was prevented by the removal of those Presidents with more Eurocentric and anti-Russian establishments. The support for these coups and removals supported by some EU states were seen as an attempt to undermine Russia’s influence in the Eastern European region. It is argued that the intentions of EU’s expansion into the East were the primary reason for supporting these government changes in Georgia and Ukraine. Consequently, Russia reacted with military interventions when the ethnic-Russians were attacked by these governments.

This further escalated the situations near the Russian borders and damaged relations between the EU as a whole with Russia. The five day Georgian war was initiated by the aggression from the Georgian authorities when they attacked Russian nationals in South Ossetia and Russia reacted with a military intervention. The act of aggression from the Georgian government was deemed illegal in the EU however, the Russian response was argued to be more detrimental due to the extent of the war. Similarly, in the case of Ukraine’s change in government facilitated and supported by some EU states have provoked Russia.

Subsequently the ethnic Russians in Crimea held a referendum for independence from Ukraine and the Kiev authorities reacted by attempts to repress the separatists. This resulted in Russian military intervention and eventual annexation of the province. In addition, the area of Donbass has seen separatist movements supported by Russia against a more Eurocentric Kiev, arguably this makes Russia and the EU at a position similar to the Cold War era. Subsequently, the EU did not take the annexation of Crimea lightly and harsh sanctions followed, the Russian side countered with reactionary sanctions on EU states. This indicated the lowest point of political relations between the Russian Federation and the EU after the end of the Cold War.

Energy interests and economic sanctions:

Evidently, as the political relations between Russia and EU faltered, EU funded and planned the Nabucco Project aiming to undermine the influence of Russian gas companies such as Gazprom in Europe. However, contrary to the political differences the Nord Stream project countering the Nabucco project was initiated by Russia and has been supported by Germany a key EU member state. This quite importantly portrays the importance of Russia’s natural resources to Europe and the policies of EU could not halt the self-interest of Germany as the Nord Stream pipelines over the Baltic Sea has been completed. The Nabucco project however has not yet materialised and is still far from being completed. Unlike the Nabucco project the Nord Stream pipelines were easier to accomplish as it was out of EU territory and did not have several governments to agree on it. This exemplifies the importance of the Russian energy in the EU member states’ markets.

In terms of energy trade, Russian energy’s primary destination remains the EU marketplace. According to research, the EU imports 74.4% of Russian oil and 63.2% of gas. This signifies the dependency of Russia on EU for a much important source of income. However, there are other sources to EU for natural resources such as North Africa and Middle-East. Therefore, it is more important for Russia in its energy trade with the EU. The Nabucco project is intended to bypass Russian territory and access the Caspian resources through Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan also known as the BTC pipeline. The Nabucco project has halted diplomatically as this involves five other EU member states who have not yet come to terms for this completion of the project. However, the BTC pipeline has commenced and the resources are reaching EU markets through sea route of the in the Mediterranean. The EU as a unit currently has an unfavourable approach to Russia, highlighted by the EU’s policy intending to limit dependency on Russian energy.

Since the fallout of EU and Russia relations after the Ukrainian crisis, the EU has signed an association agreement with Ukraine in 2013. Ukraine’s new government under President Poroshenko follows a hard-line anti-Russian stance and this has overturned the previous understanding with Russia and Ukraine under the previous government. As a result, it is safe to speculate the Ukrainian crisis has translated into a tug of war between Russia and the EU. After the crisis, erupted EU has identified the Russian pre-emptive actions as a threat to its overall security especially encompassing Eastern Europe. All of these issues have caused a further damage on the Russia and EU relation prospects.

Prior to the EU imposed sanctions on Russia, France were on the verge of making lucrative defence deals with the Russian military which would bring a significant amount of profits into France, also for Germany there were various trading relations that were obstructed. According to the French CEPII research institute, the sanctions have cost a loss of over $60 billion in 2014 for France. The Russian follow up of an embargo on EU produced food has caused a loss of $176.94 million a month and an approximate loss of 22.2% potential trade in that year.  For Germany, the numbers were higher after the EU and US sanctions on Russia. This later compelled the EU member states to take the sanctions lightly as reflected in May 2017 when the USA suggested imposing a new set of sanctions, the EU was quick to criticise it as its economic interests were under risk. After the initial fallout between EU and Russia due to the Ukraine crisis has seen a shed of light and has started to repair for the sake of economic interests.

Russia’s links to outlier European political groups:

Another interesting dimension to the Russian-EU relations is Russia’s support or a rather odd alliance with Europe’s outlier political groups. The far-right and the far-left political groups in Europe who are often out of the mainstream political sphere have had somewhat support from the Russian media and they have taken a friendlier tone to Russia after the Ukraine Crisis. It is also believed within the mainstream political consensus in EU and USA that the Russian media influence in EU countries through local language broadcasts has significantly influenced the views of these far-right and far-left political groups. Within these groups include the Freedom Party of Austria, Alternative for Germany, France’s National Front and the European United Left-Nordic Green Left along with others who have all supported the recent Russian policy of military intervention in Syria opposing the mainstream consensus of EU of arming the questionable rebel groups in Syria.

The Russian influence on these alternative political groups have significantly increased after the EU and US’s failed project of overthrowing President Assad in Syria and Russia’s campaign against Daesh . As a result, Russia came out stronger against global terrorism with its successful campaign in ongoing Syrian crisis. EU’s position influenced by the US in Syria has weakened the mainstream political parties and their judgement in the public viewpoint when they have backed various questionable Jihadi groups in Syria. Thus gave a boost for the populist movements within the EU, which has backfired the mainstream EU political entities.

The Brexit is arguably a cause of EU’s foreign policy failures along with various other factors and as a result gave rise to populist movement among EU states. Russia’s emerging role in the Middle-East and Eastern Europe has taken the political establishment in EU by a shock, as EU severely underestimated Russia’s capabilities in organising the Eastern European countries into joining the Eurasian Union, its dominant role in solving the Syrian crisis and overall fight against terrorism has enabled the Russian establishment to appear as an adequate political adversary of the EU and the US. The political differences after the Yugoslav crises fuelled by the following conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine have positioned Russia and major EU states in an adversarial role. However, there has been a growing economic integration between the two sides, which has been slowed by the political differences. Yet, the economic dimensions between the two traditionally opposing sides continue to grow.


In conclusion, the EU and Russia has mixed political relations. Due to the geographic proximity, it is impractical to totally alienate from one another, especially when it comes to the trade of core products such as natural resources and food. There are significant political differences for Russia and the EU for instance in Ukraine, Georgia and the Middle-East. However, the two parties have quite often opposed each other in international affairs. However, with a strong economic reliance on both parties it is crucial for these two sides to mend the political differences and work together to build a safer Europe and Middle-East. Since both sides face threats from terrorism fuelled by a destabilised Eastern Europe and Middle-East, it is fundamental for them to work as partners to solve these crises instead as adversaries. The economic paradigm to this political relation is quite vital the trade between Russia and EU member states are quite high further increased by Russia’s pacing economy. It is also evident from military advents in Syria by Russia has portrayed them as a force to be reckoned with. This rather gives the Russian Federation the clout it lacked during its initial years after the fall of the Soviet Union.



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