The EU is Changing its Approach to Russia. What Awaits the Eurasian Integration?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at the start of the first working session of the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. © Kay Nietfeld / Reuters

 

Russia’s economic growth after the crisis forced many countries thinking that Moscow will not be able to do without enormous infusion of foreign capital, to rethink their position. In the complicated relations between the EU with the US and with not the fastest pace of rapprochement with China the optimal decision for the European Union is the development of relations with Russia, but political factors complicate the implementation of this course. The post-Soviet republics of Eurasia, working with an eye to the West, are not in a hurry to increase the pace with the Russian Federation. Will Moscow grow tired of “Eurasian integration into one direction”?

Noticeable changes are occurring in the West’s representative’s estimation of relations with Russia. More and more representative of Western, primarily, European elite advocate for the “normalization” of relations with Russia and a gradual lifting of sanctions from our country. Lately Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron as well as other notable European politicians spoke in this vein. Thus, the president of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier offered to start a gradual change of sanctions against Russia in case of the realisation of the proposal of deploying peacekeepers in the Donbas.

Unexpected Economic Growth

Of course in the Russian economy there are many problems, such as the potential instability in the financial sector, but it is clear that the worst-case scenarios discussed in 2014-2015, Russia managed to avoid them.

The question is what structure will the economic growth have in Russia for the period after 2018, and how this structure will affect Russia’s external economic relations. Although it is already clear that Russia’s foreign “freedom of maneuvers” will be significantly bigger than in 2013. And for Moscow’s partners, this is a serious challenge.

The European Union: “Plan B” for Russia

The strongest opinions about Russia’s withdrawal from the crisis and the need to find a new modus operandi with it come from Germany. Although it is this country that was the engine behind the anti-Russian sanctions in the EU and most deeply came in the anti-Russian policies and propaganda. Probably the German elites fear the “Polonization” of German policy towards Russia: uncontrolled destruction of economic ties with Russia under the influence of propaganda.

In terms of actual ideological, and in the long-term economic war with the United States and the slowdown of closer relations with China and Russia, at least in the short term becomes a real priority for the EU.

At a minimum it is essential that Europe retain an economic base for relations with Russia and the failure of the Moscow administrative measures to limit the presence of German capital in Russia (a possibility that is already being discussed at expert levels). At a maximum the EU and Germany are interested in preserving the preferential access to the Russian market of 2011 (this today is quite unlikely) and resources. The prospects for such a scenario are that the Russian leadership has also seen the lack of prospects for progress in the structure of the European elites and their attitudes towards Russia.

Crimea – Is there a Solution?

The problem is that in Europe they would like to get out of the anti-Russian “hole” but without questioning the basic foundation of Western policy towards Russia and not forcing the political leadership to “lose face”. Hence the extended formula on the situation around Crimea by the important representatives of the German elite – “a temporary solution for an indefinite period”, which leaves room for wide interpretations, and in the short-term perspectives offers significant operational flexibility. From this, the recognition of the ineffectiveness of the sanctions policy, and attempts to teach their own public opinion to believe that the current political regime in Russia is “serious and here to stay”, and they have to find common ground.

And What About the Eurasian Allies?

But the question of forming relations with Russia under the new scenario is not only relevant for the EU countries. Such challenges face the countries of post-Soviet Eurasia, which also in recent years have actually slowed down the integration process. This is understandable; the countries of the EEU acted against Russia in exactly the same political and economic logic as the countries of the West and China. Indeed, the development of integration processes with the EEU was actually frozen, and was not much advanced beyond the “free trade zone” phase. As experience has shown, the political inertia of the Eurasian countries was greater than Russia’s partners of the “far” abroad countries.

There emerges a peculiar situation. The EU are trying to work out a model of relationship with Russia where the political factors are minimized. But some post-Soviet countries (possibly as result of external manipulation) are trying to continue to act on the basis of incorrect perceptions about Russia’s development prospects.

Thus, these countries may lose their competitive edges that still linger in their relationships with Russia and the preferences that they achieved in the process of “Eurasian integration”.

They should face the truth: the engine of economic growth in post-Soviet Eurasia can only be Russia (in the social sector this role could be played by Belarus and the quality control leader would be Kazakhstan).

In this sense, the Eurasian integration is experiencing one of the most difficult stages in its development. The discussions at the highest economic and political levels on the prospects if not the “new industrialization” of Eurasia, which could effectively in political and economic terms, complement and balance the Chinese project of the zone of shared prosperity the “Great Silk Road”, at least resuscitate joint industrial projects in the framework of the EAEC, would be timely.

Full article: The EU is Changing its Approach to Russia. What Awaits the Eurasian Integration? (SouthFront)

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