16th Jan 2019

EU split into several camps on Russia strategy, says report

Within the European Union there are a least five camps when it comes to dealing with Russia, ranging from the 'Trojan horse' countries to the 'new Cold warriors', says a new study analysing the bloc's divided approach to its giant neighbour to the east.

According to a fresh analysis by new thinktank European Council on Foreign Relations, the EU "has begun to behave as if it were subordinate to an increasingly assertive Russia" largely due to its own disunity.

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The report points out that Russia is "picking off" single member states to make long term energy deals, that Moscow has "shut the Union out" of Caucasus and Central Asia, and is blocking an agreement on the status of Kosovo in the UN.

"Russia is emerging as an ideological alternative to the EU (...) Whereas the EU stands for an idea of order based on consensus, interdependence and the rule of law, Russian foreign policy is motivated by a quest for power, independence and control."

The report notes that Russia is able to do this even though the EU's combined economy is 15 times the size of Russia's, its military budget is seven times higher, and its population three times the size of Russia.

The analysis also dismisses the idea that the disunity on Russia - an issue it says is the most "contentious" for the EU since the Iraq war - has become worse since eastern European states joined in 2004.

"EU divisions on Russia are more complex and surprising than a simple cleavage between old and new member states."

Cyprus and Greece Trojan horses for Russia

Greece and Cyprus for "ancient cultural" and "more recent geopolitical and economic" links are considered to be the Trojan horses for Russian views in the EU.

The reports notes that for Greece, Russia is an important arms supplier, Russian tourists spend twice as much per head as other tourists in Greece and Russia supplies 75 percent of its gas.

A senior official from a member state is quoted as saying: "Every possible step in the eastern neighbourhood that might even theoretically upset the Russians has been opposed by Greece."

For its part, Cyprus is formally the biggest investor in Russia because Cyprus is "used by Russian big business to create offshore firms." Russia also supports Cyprus in the conflict over northern Cyprus.

Meanwhile, Germany, France, Italy and Spain are seen as "strategic partners" who have built special bilateral relationships with Russia, sometimes undermining EU common positions on issues such as energy.

A further ten countries - Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Portugal – are put into a "friendly pragmatic" category; seen as putting business interests with Moscow first.

The Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Romania and the United Kingdom are considered to be "frosty pragmatic", critical of Russia but still prepared to do business with it.

At the most Russia-unfriendly end of the spectrum are Lithuania and Poland - the "new Cold-Warriors". They have build up an "overtly hostile relationship" with Moscow.

An avant garde group on Russia

The report suggests a whole new way of handling Russia is needed as the two current models - either involving Russia in as many EU policies through "creeping integration" or treating Russia as a threat - are both fundamentally flawed.

Instead it suggests that the basis for relations with Russia should be that it respects the rule of law rather than focussing on the "long term goal" of a liberal, democratic Russia.

Such an approach would be in the interest of all five camps notes the report saying that Russia's "selective application of the law" affects all member states.

But the report is less confident on how such a unified approach would be achieved among the 27 member states noting only that it will "require hard work, intelligent leadership and political will (…)"

It suggests that an "avant garde" of countries might be needed to take the lead on the big questions with Russia to do with energy, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Ukraine.

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EU diplomats in Bosnia have voiced sympathy for protesters against lawlessness in the Serb entity ruled by Russian darling Milorad Dodik, after demonstrations in Banja Luka left one police officer injured.

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