This article is part of ECFR's Wider Europe Forum
The EU lacks a rational partner in the East, but that does not mean it should curry favour with an unreasonable one.
In Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard’s recent essay, the authors evaluate the current political situation and Russian-European relations in a fairly original way for Europeans. They suggest that the European Union apparently intended to “spread osmotically [its order] to encompass a continent – and eventually a whole planet” and only “Russia’s annexation of Crimea made Europeans suddenly realise” that this was unlikely to happen. Exactly why they are convinced of the EU’s “expansive” nature is unclear. All the way through the text, the analysts mix up the concepts of the “European order” (which, it seems to me, never actually existed) and the post-modern structure of the EU, in which there are in fact many political innovations.
Krastev and Leonard accuse Europe of not understanding Russia’s interests and of being unable to deal with it as an equal (although why Russia should be considered as an equal is not explained). They suggest that Europeans acknowledge their mistakes and start to work with Russia, not in the EU-Russia format, but in an EU-Eurasian Economic Union format. The authors think that this would help Putin to not “feel vulnerable domestically” and would provide Europeans the opportunity of “co-evolution” with Russia.
The EU’s most important task is to understand where the limits of the “European” world are and which part of the planet should be handed over to Putin’s experiments.
With all due respect to both authors, I cannot agree with any of their theses, apart from the first sentence: “in Vladimir Putin’s world […] borders can be changed by force, […] international institutions are powerless, […] economic interdependence is a source of insecurity”. This much, alas, is true – but I hope that this new world never becomes European. The EU’s most important task is to understand where the limits of the “European” world are and which part of the planet should be handed over to Putin’s experiments. It should not search for “co-evolution”, but bring down a new iron curtain – not from “Stettin to Trieste”, but from Narva either to Brest and Kishinev, or to Vitebsk and Mariupol. The occupation of Crimea and the aggression against Ukraine is a sign not of the destruction of the European order, but of Moscow’s fear of the threat that it poses. The EU should not impose its principles on others, but nor should it revise them just because someone else does not like them. “The European model” has not collapsed – it has simply reached its limits (since the Kremlin believes that Russia is not Europe). Therefore, the boundaries of Europe need to be reimagined – which would make the question that the authors are asking moot.
The recommendation that the EU should make friends with the EEU is especially dubious. The authors understand that behind the creation of the EEU lies “an attempt by Moscow to gain status and recognition by mimicking the institutions and structure of the EU”. But this means that “co-evolution” would be no more than the acquisition of a forgery, an obvious fake. And anyway, why should Europeans “co-evolve” anywhere with our New-Asia?
The union is built around an economy which is in rapid decline and which by the end of 2015 will equal no more than one-fifteenth of the EU’s economy. What would be the point of dialogue?
Russia has gathered into the Eurasian Economic Union less than 30 percent of the population living in the states of the former Soviet Union beyond Russia’s own borders. In two out of the EEU’s five participating states, remittances from migrants working in Russia make up over one-third of GDP. Russia accounts for nearly 86 percent of the economic potential of the EEU. Even if not only Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia but also Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan join, it would not make the union any bigger an economy than, for instance, Brazil. Not one of its members or aspiring member states has access to the sea trade lanes that are critical to the world economy. And within the EEU’s precursor, the Customs Union, trade turnover between members has dropped for the second year in a row. Inside the bloc itself, trade wars are under way and barriers are being set up. The union is being constructed on principles familiar to the Kremlin: in contrast to the EU, where members of the union are relatively equal, Russia dominates the EEU in foreign policy just as “United Russia” dominates in Russia in domestic affairs. The union is built around an economy which is in rapid decline and which by the end of 2015 will equal no more than one-fifteenth of the EU’s economy. What would be the point of dialogue? The hope that “the EU’s readiness to recognise Armenia’s ‘Eurasian choice’ gives Brussels legitimacy to press Moscow to accept the ‘European choice’ of Moldova and Ukraine”? As they say – no comment.
Returning to the original theory (“in Putin’s world […] economic interdependence is a source of insecurity”), the EU should not look for rapprochement either with Russia or with the EEU. Instead, it should look after itself, reducing this dangerous interdependence. Just because it lacks a pliable, rational partner in the East does not mean that the EU should curry favour with an unreasonable one. “There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.”
The time has come to understand that the single post-historical world that allegedly emerged after 1989 was a figment of our imagination.
The question after the annexation of Crimea is not which will win, “Putin’s world” or “Merkel’s world”. It is all much simpler than that: the time has come to understand that the single post-historical world that allegedly emerged after 1989 was a figment of our imagination. There is no one world – there are many worlds: the world of post-modern Europe and the world of the “Islamic State” that radicals in the Middle East are trying to build, the world of the United States and its global soft power and the Russian world that knows how to buy up authoritarian leaders, the Chinese world as the flagship of a global industrial renaissance and the world of petrostates, praying for oil prices to rise. All these worlds are different and they are all connected – but none of the successful worlds has a destiny that is critically dependent on interaction with the losers.
One hundred years ago, a world that appeared to be global was cast into a global war; this turned into what Niall Ferguson has called the War of the World. This human tragedy was the price that was paid for the illusions of kings who each believed that his own “world” could become global. Europeans, as the main geopolitical innovators of the second half of the twentieth century, must understand that Russia and its EEU really represent another world in relation to which they need fear only one thing: unprotected intercourse. Russia could transfer to Europe diseases that are easily transmitted and difficult to cure: nationalism, corruption, disregard for the rule of law, and an increase in double standards. It would be much easier to stay away from Putin and his “world”, not least because in this new Cold War the EU can carry on buying oil and gas from Russia as before (and not only from Russia).
There is no “European order” because there is no Europe. On the territory of this continent there is the EU with its order and there is the Eurasian New-Asia with its own. Only people with a vivid imagination could expect amazing results from a combination of order and chaos, the original and the forgery.
This article was originally published in Russian in Vedomosti on 21 January 2015.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.