The Resurgence of Russia and its Relations with Europe: A True Transformation or a Superficial Change?

By Krzysztof Siczek
Interstate - Journal of International Affairs
2011, Vol. 2011/2012 No. 1 | pg. 2/2 |

Interdependencies

However, this “cause and effect” relationship is not straightforward, nor it is context-free. The overall discourse of EU–Russia relations switched to that of EU dependence on Russian energy. However, in absolute terms the former still surpasses53 the latter in almost all indicators of soft and hard power. For example, the EU’s economy is about fifteen times bigger and even with the oil wealth taken into account, Russia’s GDP is only as big as that of Belgium and the Netherlands combined.54 The increased importance of energy in the relations between the two works in Russia’s favour, as does the policy cohesion. Nonetheless, the other part of the explanation lies in the enlargement and internal divisions of the EU itself.

The 2004 and 2007 enlargements increased the internal EU diversity of interests,55 which consequently hinder negotiations on unified policy. With an almost equal division56 (4 to 6) in the approach of new member states towards Russia, divided between friendly and critical, together with the list57 of countries - both new and old members - which had bilateral disputes with the Kremlin suggests that the divisions in the EU are deep-rooted. Russia has managed to expose them and capitalized on them, however, it was able to do so only because they existed before and had been deepened by the enlargement.

Furthermore, while the preceding years had brought about an increased EU dependence on energy imports from Russia, we simultaneously witnessed the augmentation of Moscow’s dependence on the EU market. Between 2001 and 2008 trade between the two partners tripled, the EU being responsible for 55 per cent of Russian exports and 45 per cent of its imports in 2008 and Russia claiming 11 per cent of the EU imports and 8 per cent of its exports.58 It is only right to agree with Sergei Lavrov saying ‘the European Union is our most important economic and political partner’.59 Russian dependence on the European market is even stronger in the energy sector as the transaction costs of market diversification are high.60 About 80 per cent of Moscow’s energy exports go to the EU.61 Bearing in mind the extreme importance of these revenues for the Russian economy, the Kremlin cannot give up its current partners. It is possible that in the future the development of relations with China could provide Russia with an alternative, however, the pipelines between the two are far from being operational and the fluctuations of world market prices threaten the profitability of train or sea transports.62 With the resurgence contributing to the withholding of infrastructure investments in this sector, interdependence has been further exacerbated. Therefore, contrary to certain rhetoric63 and in line with common strategic interests,64 relations with the EU remain high on the Russian agenda.

Conclusion

In this analysis the developments of last decade of Russian history have been analysed. Firstly, making use of statistical data it was demonstrated that the Russian economy recovered after the 1998 crisis. With the Kremlin able to provide prosperity for the Russian population, President Putin managed to gain extraordinary popular support. This allowed him to increase the internal cohesion by crushingpolitical opposition and the takeovers of crucial companies.

Secondly, using the examples of corruption and energy sector renationalisation, it was argued that the processes of “resurgence” not only failed to resolve some of Russia’s pressing problems, but they undermined what it was built on – the revenues from energy exports. Statistics from 2008 and 2009 confirmed that Russia still depends on world energy prices which are beyond its control, making, therefore, the “resurgence” fragile and possibly reversible.

Thirdly, the examples of Russia successfully eliminating the EU’s influence on its internal processes and its ability to achieve foreign policy objectives using energy power demonstrated how the “resurgence” has influenced EU–Russia relations, strengthening the position of the latter.

Lastly, the role of internal EU divisions and trade statistics were analysed arguing that Russia’s position has been strengthened not only as a result of its resurgence but also that the interdependencies between the two continue to make them vital partners. In this article it has been argued that the changes in the Russian domestic situation and in its relations with the EU, although important, have not been fundamental. Russia recovered from the crisis of the 1990s, yet it is not a superpower and its situation is prone to reversal.

Concurrently, Russia successfully altered in its favour the balance between itself and the EU. Nonetheless, the two remain indispensable to each other as partners. The study focused on the period of last 10 years, nevertheless, the process is ongoing and new development may invalidate present conclusions. Therefore, continuous analysis is required in order to inform the policy-makers on the possible consequences for European security.


Endnotes

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