Analysis of political relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation

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“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt –

The European Union and Russian Federation have not had the best political relations, as it has always been indistinct. However, both sides have preserved decent relations towards each other. The main reason is because both sides economic appeared to be dependent towards each other. Nevertheless, the United States under NATO, together with the Ukraine crisis, has undermined the relations between the EU and Russia

Political Relations

Since the beginning of the European integration, the Soviet Union position has always been opposed to Europe, even though both sides share several common similarities. Following the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991, the relations between the Europe and Russia became even more complicated. However, despite the norms and values differences that caused uncertainty on the political ties, the EU-Russia relations continues to be the key importance for both sides (European Union Center of North Carolina, 2008). After the end of Cold War and dispersal of the USSR, Russia has embarked to reconnect their relations with the European community (Bremmer, 2003). It has been argued that during the presidency of Yeltsin, Russia started to become a more open society to the West (Bremmer, 2003). Therefore, in June 1994, the first official political agreements between the Russian Federation and the European Union was created, under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) that was signed by both parties in June 1994 (House of Lord, 2015). The agreement contains, political, economic, and social relations, including human rights. A couple of years after the PCA, Russia and EU signed another deal to discussed four based on their future cooperation. Those four common spaces are; economic, freedom together with security and justice, research as well as education, and external security (Smith, 2005). The fifth common space was added as the common neighbourhood (Smith, 2005) – which elucidate how the Russia and Europe need to behave in certain level for the best of their neighbourhood. Moreover, in order to strengthen relations from both sides, in 2008, the EU and Russia established new negotiations regarding free trade area and visa-free travel (Russell, 2016).

Analysing political relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation could be challenging. It is – just like analyzing other states political relations – has to depends on who rules the government at times. Gorbachev, the last leader of Soviet Union before the collapsed, has brought Russia to reform its political ideology to be democratic. Foreign policy under the Gorbachev’s has developed strong relations towards liberal ideas and primarily focused towards the West, even seek political relations with the UN Security Council (Jackson, 2003). It has been argued that Gorbachev foreign policy could be one of the main reasons why the dissolution of Soviet Union happened. Within this, the establishment of Russian Federation – if it was under the Gorbachev government – could possibly strengthen the relations between Russia and the West. However, Gorbachev resigned after the collapsed of Soviet Union and was replaced by Yeltsin. In the course of Yeltsin government, Russia has appeared to be on threshold whether they would become a European or not (Bremmer, 2003).

Nonetheless, Yeltsin started his presidency by continuing the policy of strategic retreat of Gorbachev (Jackson, 2003). When Putin came to power, he adjusted new system. Although, the pattern of ‘new realism’ of Putin has been seen since Yeltsin’s presidency (Sawka, 2009), Putin has widely shown the broader image of ‘Russia new realism.’ Although some argued that foreign policy under Putin became more liberal which has started to develop relations between the EU and Russia (Danilov, 2005), Putin appeared to has its way to pursue Russia’s national interest. Putin has the aim to brought Russia as an important role in the international order. The European Union is uncertain where Russia stands under Putin. Thus, it has affected the EU policy towards Russia. As it has been argued that the main policy of the EU towards Russia is based on a ‘strategic partnership’ which is to move Russia towards the liberal democracy and market economy (Gower, 2016), the EU find difficulty to create a foreign policy towards Russia. The European Union Committee admit that for the past twenty years, it has been challenging to adjust policies towards Russia, as the Russian internal political view is changing (House of Lords, 2015). The EU is unsure where is Russia leads, whether it is moving towards liberal-democratic world or not, as it is necessary for developing the relations between both sides (Smith, 2005) and at the same time, it is also important to manage the integration, in order to democratise Russia (Smith, 2005).

Economic Interdependence

According to the Russian Mission to the EU (2016), Russia and the EU both enjoy intensive trade and economic relations. Although government relations between the EU and Russia might be intricated, their economy is dependent towards each other. Russia has received financial support from the EU (Lain, 2016), likewise, the EU also dependent towards Russia imports. Economic interdependence between Russia and the EU has affected the relations between the two governments. The EU was strongly dependent on Russian energy supplies as well as its imports from Europe, especially for luxury goods (Laquer, 2015). Moreover, there are exchanges in between resources and products between both sides. For instance, Germany, as one of the most significant Russia’s trading partner (House of Lords, 2015) has smoothly traded between resources and products. Germany buys energy and mineral from the Russia and produces the products, such as high technology, that Russian needs (Herpen, 2016). Thus, unlike, the United States that less likely dependent their economy towards Russia, the EU needs to consider any action that they would make in order not to damage both sides economy.

Russia government has been aware of the dualism between an exporting and manufacturing sector. For the people that still see Russia as a powerful state, would require the Russian to create its foreign policy independently (Kobrinskaya, 2005). It means that Russia is capable of making decision without having to depend to other states. The economic dependent is not crucial, as some people believe that Russia is still one of the most powerful states, and yet, can survive on its own, even without having to trade with other states. Instead of depending on other states, Russia is the state that others need to depend on. Russia is aware of the account of energy as a factor in foreign policy. Thus it has been used to spread influence internationally (Chun, 2008). Energy, including oil and gas, play an essential role in the fulfillment of Russia’s national interest. According to the House of Lords of the European Union Committee (2015), in 2013, the EU energy supplies from Russia elucidated for 39% of EU natural gas imports and in terms of oil, the EU has imported more than 300 billion euros, which one third of it is from Russia (House of Lords, 2015). The EU dependence towards Russia regarding energy supplies is vivid. Therefore, one of Russia’s political strategies is to escalate the EU dependent towards Russia energy supplies (Chun, 2008).

However, although it has been stated that the EU is dependent their economy to Russia, there is evidence that shows how the Russia is more dependent on the EU. In between 1991 until 2006, where the Russia has benefited from the EU’s Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) programme which issues 2,7 billion euros (Lain, 2016). The money was released to support development in Russia through several different programmes. It has shown how much financially dependent Russia was to the European community. In addition, the Russia is the third largest trading partner to the EU, after the US and China (Chun, 2008), while the EU is Russia’s number one trading partner. The fact has weakened Russian position compared to the EU. Furthermore, there are no other factors why the EU needs Russia for its economic relations, rather than natural resources (Bremmer, 2003). The EU still can survive even without having to rely on Russia’s resources, as the EU could get it from, either the United States or China. Thus, the Russian might not be able to act independently towards its foreign policy, without consideration of its economy dependent towards the EU. In fact, the EU might want to take advantage of the situation for the Russia to be financially reliant on the west (Laqueur, 2015). Therefore, it would make the situations between the EU and Russia beneficial to the European community.

The Case of Ukraine

After the Russian military intervention in Crimea in 2014, the war that was internal issues between the Ukrainians, now become the international issues. After Viktor Yanukovych was replaced with Petro Poroskenko in 2014, the situation that could have been better, happen to be worst. The Ukraine is divided in between the East that called to be a part of Russia and the rest that wanted cooperation with the European Union (Yekelchyk, 2015). Moreover, Russia does not want to lose its influence over Ukraine. With Crimea built its government and Putin claimed that Crimea is a part of Russia, the Ukraine political situation is chaos. The rise of rebels in other parts of Ukraine occurred, including the war in Donbas. Thus, the case remained unresolved. The international community including the European Union, have acted upon it and accusing Russia for breaking the international law. Within the Russian invasion of the Crimea and the war in Donbas – it has altered the EU-Russia relations to become more strained. The seeing up terms of the ceasefire and political process regarding the situation was made under the Minsk Protocol that was signed between Ukraine, Russia and representatives of the ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk’ and the ‘People’s Republic of Luhansk’ on 5 September 2014 (House of Lords, 2015). The ceasefire was tried to prevent the ongoing war and to ease the situation in Ukraine. However, the Protocol was collapse and did not work well, and the sanction towards Russia was imposed. Both the EU and Russia arguably are fighting over Ukraine. According to Samokhvalov (2015), the reasons for both the EU and Russia contention over Ukraine was under the same interest but different perspectives and views on the social, political and economic (Samokhvalov, 2015).

From the European Union perspectives, together with the international actors, Russian intervention to Ukraine and Crime is unjustified. The European Union Committee of the House of Lords report (2015) has stated that this event has assisted the changed within the Russia political sphere that seen as the differences viewpoint of the political and economic field in between the EU and Russia (House of Lords, 2015). Thus, sanction was imposed to Russia under the United Nations Security Council, with support from the EU. However, the sanction is unacceptable for Russia. Russia has declared that the relationship between the EU and Russia has been severely undermined by the sanctions imposed by the European Union (Russian Mission to the EU, 2016). The Russian believed that the EU together with the United States had placed the importance of political ideology rather than the economic relations. According to the Russian Mission to the EU (2016), the Russian government argued that this sanction has damaged the economy of both sides, and the EU has done it only for the spread of geopolitical schemes (Russian Mission to the EU, 2016). On the other hand, fighting for Ukraine is essential for Russia. For Russians, losing Ukraine would mean that they are losing the significant key actor of the Eurasian Economic Union. Moreover, Ukraine is very important to Russia in terms of history, religion, and identity (House of Lords, 2015). Ukraine is significant to Russia as losing Ukraine to the West, might undermine the power of Russia while strengthening the West. The Russian is under pressure having the needs to cooperate with the EU as their economy is dependent towards the EU. However, at the same time, the Russian also do not want to lose influences in Ukraine.

The EU position in between Russia and NATO

There are speculations on how the United States wanted to spread its influences to the Russia through the EU. Both the EU and the US secretly have been trying to changes the political ideology of Russia, while the Russian has its own perception of it. However, even though the West is afraid of Russian position that might oppose the international order, Russia itself has not stated that they are not following the international order either or rejecting the idea of democracy. In fact, the Russian stated that they are willing to cooperate in line with principles of equality, mutual respect, mutual benefit and norms of international law (Russian Mission to the EU, 2016). Moreover, on his interview with Megyn Kelly (2017), Putin said that Russia is developing along a democratic path, without a doubt (Russia Insider, 2017). Thus, the west would not have to fear of Russian different political views. In addition, NATO expansion was actively virulent with Russian respond that nearly at the same level, while with Europe there are still lines for cooperation (Bremmer, 2003). Meanwhile, the Europe is situated in the middle between the US and Russia pressure (Laquer, 2015). The EU could not make their decisions independently without discussing with the United States. Although the EU might disagree with some of the Russian actions, the EU is not as aggressive as the United States under NATO.

Sahra Wagenknecht (2015) on her interview with one of Russian international television network, RT – argued that the EU politicians that conduct policies and strategies are under the Americans pressure, it does clear that the American foreign policy tension is to develop strain in between the Russian and German or with the EU itself, and NATO is the tools that the US use to spread its interest (RT, 2015). NATO influences towards decision making have undermined the relations between the EU and Russia. It appeared as the Russia-EU relations depend on the Russia relations either with the United States or with NATO. Furthermore, Laquer (2015) argued that the European position is the hard one because it has to depend on Russian energy supplies while having to follow the US policies (Laquer, 2015). It has caused difficulties for the EU, but at the same time, the EU could be seen as the mediation between both sides.

Moreover, there has always been a balance of power between Russia and the West. As though an interpretation of the realism theory – one might be apprehensive if the other has more power, thus, both sides try to pursue power and create the balance of power (Mearsheimer, 2013) – this is one of the main reasons why fighting over Ukraine is crucial. Ukraine is a big state, with 44,222,947 populations that place them at the rank of 32 in the world, by the end 2017 (Worldometers, 2017). Thus, having influences over Ukraine would strengthen each side power. In addition to his interview with Megyn Kelly (2017), Putin also argued that the American might want to pull out the Russia energy sources from the EU and fill it with theirs (Russia Insider, 2017). It could be seen as if Putin argument is valid; the US is pursuing its interest by evolving their energy sources, at the same time, to preclude EU economic dependency to Russia. The effect of this would alleviate the demand for the European Union to preserve relations with Russia.


Political relations between the European Union and Russian Federation is intricate. Even though both came from the same roots, they have different common values. Although the complication of the political relations is tangible, both sides economic is dependent towards each other. Some argued that Russia is more dependent towards EU. This argument is supported by evidence that stated the EU is Russia’s main trading partner, while Russia is at number three for the EU imports. Moreover, with the United States under NATO has influenced the EU – it has weakened Russian power in terms of the EU and Russia balance of power. In addition, if the US – in the future – has successfully replaced the energy supplies from Russia to the EU, the Russia might have lost its power, as they are still economically dependent to the EU. Furthermore, with the Ukraine case and the sanctions that were imposed to Russia, has damaged the relations between the EU and Russia, both political as well as economically. Nevertheless, the EU and Russia relations will keep on going, even though the relations have always been in complexity.


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“Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.”

– Aristotle –


Author: Valentina Laura

A dreamer & a lover.

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