Publications of Lazarova, Mariya

The EU’s approach towards Russia: Time for Reconsideration?

This policy brief explores the pre-Vilnius1 relations between two powers – the European Union (EU) and Russia. This relationship, often unstable not least because of historical heritage, has altered during the past few years due to a number of changes that are to be discussed here: the changing domestic situation in Russia, the growing competition between the two parties over the 'shared neighborhood’, and not least the overdependence on each other in the energy field. These three areas are chosen for analysis, as they are the most contentious and crucial ones overarching EU-Russia relations. After briefly outlining the pre-Vilnius state of affairs in each issue area, recommendations for the improvement of the relationship are given for the European Union. As events in Ukraine after the Vilnius Summit have demonstrated, the status quo in EU-Russia relations was not stable, and changes recommended here could have alleviated the situation. Moreover, the suggestions about the three abovementioned areas still have the potential to improve this relationship on a more pragmatic level. This is not to claim that the betterment of EU-Russia interaction is not needed and required on higher levels, however, this paper offers one reading of how problems could be overcome. The major recommendation that this paper puts forward is that the EU should be more pragmatic in its relations with Russia. It should seek to expand trade, avoid energy overdependence, and exploit investment and business opportunities. The transformation of the Russian society by promoting ‘shared values’ should not be an aim on its own, but should rather be the result stemming from people’s realization that a closer cooperation with the EU brings them opportunities and prosperity. Furthermore, the visa facilitation dialogue should be revived, and the opening of the EU’s borders should be seen as counterbalancing the isolationist trends that Moscow is promoting. Moreover, this paper calls for greater acknowledgement by the EU of Russia’s presence in the region. By accepting it, the EU should not aim for reconciliation in every field, but should try to work on areas where there are mutual and complementary interests. The EU should recognize the limits of its normative leverage and should try to progress its relations with Russia in other domains. To sum up, it has become evident that the common denominator will hardly be found in normative terms, thus the relations have to be more pragmaticallyoriented to ensure that at least the possibilities that are at place are explored.