Last days demonstrated yet another division in the transatlantic alliance — political leaders of major European countries explicitly distanced themselves from the new US position on the status of Jerusalem. Earlier they also opposed the new Trump assault against the Iranian nuclear agreement.
At the same time, the European Commission announced its plan to create a European Monetary Fund, to introduce a new position of the EU Minister of Finance in order to enhance the efficiency of the Union’s monetary policy. All the problems and complications notwithstanding, the EU — British negotiation on the modalities of Brexit go ahead narrowing the gap in positions of the two sides.
These and many other developments suggest that Europe has entered a period of a deep reassessment of both its institutional foundations that recently have demonstrated multiple malfunctions and its place and the role in the rapidly changing world of today and tomorrow. This reassessment will be difficult, sometimes painful and even risky, but Brussels cannot avoid or postpone it, if the European Union is to remain among global leaders drawing the counters of the new world order.
Russia, in its turn, has to confront serous challenges of both internal and external nature. Along with apparent recent successes in the international domain, the most manifestations of which being the fight against the terrorist threat in Syria and the advancement of Russia’s interests in the Asian Pacific region, Moscow faces an increasing risk of international isolation. Various sanctions and other restrictions applied to Russia have already caused significant negative consequences for the country. First, they distract substantial political and economic resources from dealing with urgent domestic problems. Second, they limit in many ways Russia’s capabilities to engage constructively in global and regional politics. Third, and this is arguably the most important, sanctions constrain political and economic reforms in Russia, which are badly needed and without which the country will find it increasingly difficult to stay in line with the most advanced nations in the world. To achieve this goal through keeping a robust military potential is clearly insufficient.
Of course, it is up to Brussels and to Moscow to figure out how to manage their respective domestic and foreign policy problems. However, in the modern interdependent world, where national and international factors are more and more intertwined, success or failure in addressing these problems will largely depend on external variables.
In the beginning of this century, Russia and Europe decided to build partnership relations with each other. It was not easy, given the remaining negative legacy of the Cold War, but it turned out to be possible due to the political will on both sides. At that point, everybody agreed that Russia could not become a full-fledged member of either the European Union or NATO and therefore we had to think about new mechanisms of cooperation. These new mechanisms had to help us to overcome institutional limitations and to open the door for a mutually beneficial cooperation.
Over two decades — and this is a very short period by history scales — together, we succeeded to shape a modern, well-structured normative base for our relationship that proved its efficiency in political, economic, and humanitarian domains. It is particularly important to note that we undertook a number of specific initiatives aimed at building a common and indivisible Euro-Atlantic security space.
Let me emphasize that Russia and Europe took all these steps not as concessions to the other side, but rather as a reflection of their respective interests and their understanding of long-term fundamental changes in the world.
Unfortunately, during the second decade of the XXI century a whole number of various reasons, which we have not yet analyzed in depth, led to increased tensions between Russia and Europe. The previously accumulated positive potential in the relationship quickly evaporates; many established communication channels that have helped us to understand each other better and to find solutions to even the most divisive problems are now disrupted or blocked. Why has it happened and could it have been avoided deserves a separate discussion. Of course, it is not exclusively or even largely about the Ukrainian crisis. The real troubles between Russia and Europe had started much earlier than 2013.
However, the most important question is not about the past, but about the future. What strategic trajectories can Europe and Russia choose from and how do these trajectories relate to each other?
One can easily imagine drifting further apart from each other guided by bitter disagreements about the past and their diverging perceptions of the future. The European Union will manage without Russia, and Russia will not collapse if it separates itself from EU. However, in this case our common continent will remain divided in the XXI century as it was for the most part of the XX century. The division will have a profound negative impact not only on Moscow and Brussels, but also on the nations in between. Furthermore, the inability or unwillingness of the two sides to make full use of their natural complementarity will inevitably negatively affect the ability of both Europe and Russia to remain vibrant parts of the highly competitive world that emerges right in front of our eyes.
The opposite trajectory implies both sides investing into bridging the gaps between each other, restoring communication links, identifying areas of mutual interest and gradually expanding cooperation in various fields. The progress is not likely to be fast; one can foresee many obstacles, procrastinations and setbacks on the way. The negative inertia of the current crisis will continue to intoxicate our relations for years, f not decades. Still, with due political will, stamina and patience exercised by both sides Russia and Europe can reverse many of the unfortunate developments we witnessed unfolding over last couple of years.
As they say, you should never waist a good crisis. One of the post important tasks for politicians, experts, public leaders and businesspersons on both sides is to rise beyond the passions of the day and to look at the Europe — Russia relations from a broader historic perspective. Only such an approach can enable them to focus our vision, to assess our long-term challenges, opportunities and capabilities — so that we could set our goals right.