Stating that the relation between the European Union and Russia is currently blocked by the Ukrainian Crisis means ignoring the condition related difference between the two entities.
Russia is a country of personal political and strategic identity. Although it launched the project of the Euro-Asiatic Union, from the position of its leader, Moscow maintains its full control of its internal politics and strategically speaking, it is completely independent. In exchange, the European Union has a personal political identity only because from strategic point of view, it depends on NATO, on a relatively complicated relation (given that there are NATO States non-members of the European Union, such as Turkey and European Union States non-NATO members, such as Finland or Cyprus). Whereas, within its relation with the Russian Federation, the European Union has the advantage of its demographic, economic and technologic dimension, Russia has the superior advantage of a strategic coherence. Subsequently, four elements must be taken into account in order to answer the following question: where is European Union situated at the beginning of 21st century?
1) The European Union must apprehend the security related issues as a geographic and conceptual continuum. From geographic point of view, this is applied from the closest frontier from Balkans up to the Caucasians, all along Central Asia and until the Middle East. From conceptual point of view, it includes issues related to political corruption, criminality, ethnic conflicts, local terrorist attacks within the Union and at the outskirts of the Union, up to the global terrorism of post-modern World War I. Europe is no longer a safe place; the concept of an “inclusive Europe”, which is much more operational beyond its stretched frontiers or at least as things used to be so far, must become a fundamental principle of the social conception related to security.
2) The perspective of a security cooperation between the European Union and Russia, perceived as implausible not so long ago, as attempting means to create a differentiation space between the European Union and the United States of America and that was initially rejected by the Union due to the same reasons, now starts to take shape as part of a triangular cooperation, but not quite as an alliance for the future.
3) The continuation of the expansion of the Union to the East and South (which happened in 2004-2007-2013).
4) The institutional reconstruction of the European Union to the extent to which it can cope with the challenges of the 21st century, see the migration crisis caused by the Middle East conflicts and which demonstrates the Union’s weakness and lack of cohesion.
Due to this reason, the Ukrainian Crisis must not be taken as a cause for the diminishing of the bilateral relations. It is just an “accident to pass”, in a report that has many favourable premises as well as many challenges. Consequently, an analysis of the relations between them, which sets an exclusive highlight on the Ukrainian situation, risks to get stuck in insignificant details and not to observe the future potential.
Above all, the relation between the European Union and the Russian Federation starts as a huge favourable premise ensued from the complementarity of the two entities. The European Union is a union of intensely populated States, subject to great pressures of clandestine immigration, whilst Russia occupies a huge surface and has a relatively reduced population, in decrease. At the same time, the European Union has an extremely high technological level and life standard, whilst Russia is still scarce in both chapters. Between the two entities, the need for infrastructural investments creates exceptional business opportunities, in fields such as energy, industry or agriculture.
Although it is recent that Europe and Russia interpret special political and military parts sometimes antagonistic, there is a certainty: the Russian culture is a component of the European culture. The byzantine Christianity, the modernization that started with the reign of Peter the Great, even the forced modernization from the communist period tied Russia to Europe, at the level of material and spiritual civilization. With its specific traits, the great country that stretches on two continents is part of the European civilization, which pushed up to the Pacific. The circumstance is best visible nowadays in Siberia: the silent battle that Russia declares against China in Oriental Siberia is the battle of the European civilization against the Asiatic civilization.
There are a few strategic fields of activity in which a potential closeness between Moscow and Brussels could open exceptional horizons to both parties. For example, the energy field, in which Europe can ensure its necessary resources for its own economic development and Russia can obtain a sustainable and profitable outlet. Agriculture is suitable as well to a synergy between the European Union and the Russian Federation, given the European experience, the necessities of the Russian domestic market and also the underdeveloped potential of the Russian agriculture. Moreover, the new concept of Food Security, which, apart from the aspects related to agricultural production, also touches aspects related to political decision, commerce, economic policies, poverty and food waste, may also become a closeness means between the two entities. Industry is a field in which the cooperation started long ago and has already revealed its development potential.
The main impediment in a more substantial closeness between the two players is the strategic condition of the European Union. Taking into account that it does not have its own military identity and it is in an ambiguous position towards NATO, the European Union is subject to external turbulences. The Ukrainian Crisis is just an episode of this complex relation between the European political organization and the Euro-Atlantic military one. Tensions and pressures outside Europe (especially from Washington) imposed unwanted behaviours during the crises from the former Yugoslavia – especially during the bombardments from 1999 – or Iraq. Not once, the strategic dependency to the United States of America imposed Europe to waive the promotion of its direct interests. It is supposed that this disturbing factor shall continue, even though the European Union indicates that it is in search of a better-defined strategic identity.
Nevertheless, although the European Union was less dependent on the United States of America, the second perturbing factor would appear in its relation with the Russian Federation: the difference between the two entities in terms of dimensions. A Europe that would integrate Russia would inevitably be a Europe led by Russia (the greatest country with the greatest number of inhabitants and with the most powerful army), which the European Union cannot accept, irrespective of the economic advantages that would result from this synergy. The life standard differences in favour of the Union, the technological and financial handicap of Moscow is quite obvious, the European prejudice related Russia are factors that must be taken into account, since they contradict its leadership position.
The opinion of the Russian population cannot be neglected also if a potential closeness imposed Moscow certain concessions towards the European model. The European Union benefits from a quite bad image in most of the Russian population and it is not easy to anticipate the reaction of the majority if Brussels demanded certain reforms into the Russian society.
There is a certain contradiction between the position of Romania from the eastern frontier of the European Union and the very poor relations between Bucharest and Moscow. The causes of these poor relations are complex and it is not realistic to hope for a sudden and complete change. Neither before the Ukrainian crisis were the bilateral Romanian – Russian relations brighter under political or economic aspects. It is only at the level of cultural changes that we can speak of a beginning of debacle, although the premises of success are not gathered as long as the projects of the Romanian Cultural Institute prevail on the occidental cultural market.
Before the Ukrainian Crisis, nevertheless, Romania did not represent a disturbing factor in the relations between the European Union and Russia. We must also include the internal political factor: the new presidency of Romania seems less adventurous at the level of anti-Russian statements and eloquence and the domestic political relations changed for the better as opposed to the previous period. We can assess that if the situation in Ukraine becomes normal and at the level of great European powers a normalization process shall trigger in the relations with Russia, the Romania’s position shall get in line with these tendencies.
This shall not mean, nevertheless, that the Bucharest program related to the consolidation of defence and military collaboration with the United States of America (anti-missile shield , F16 defence procurement, other military projects) shall cease. Yet, Romania’s necessity for defence determines the continuation of such collaboration. NATO frame is large enough to cover a bilateral military collaboration between Romania and United States of America, irrespective of the potential normalization of the relations between Russia and the European Union.
This is the reason why an analysis of the Romanian role into the relations between the European Union and Russia must take into account such conditions, as well as the fact that Bucharest is far from being a leading force of the Union. For example, we can assess that Romania shall not oppose such a normalization of the relations between Europe and Russia, in case she is decided by the great European powers. But it is not realistic to believe that a potential transformation of the Romanian – Russian bilateral relations can transform our country into a champion of the closeness between Russian and the European Union, for the simple reason that Romania does not have the power to decide within the European Union.
As regards the future relations, Romania has a special position within the EU, due to 1) its reduced dependency on the energy imports from Russia, 2) the absence of industrial and agricultural export resources on the Russian market, 3) the existence of a collision of strategic interests related to the Republic of Moldova, and 4) the existence of a residual layer of anti-Russian feelings in our country.
Yet, the importance of a good relation with the Russian Federation is not to be neglected for any capital, especially for one geographically situated close to Russia, such as Bucharest. This is the reason why a favorable moment to get back to the normal course of the bilateral Romanian – Russian relations is expected after the relaxation of the relations at the European Union level (following positive evolutions in Ukraine). The softening of the tone regarding offensive oratory and the continuation of the normal cultural relations can contribute to this normalization.