In 2011, the EU and Russia clashed over trade and energy relationships with the Eastern Partnership states. Europeans were united but could not alter Russia’s policy in the shared neighbourhood.
The EU hopes to encourage third parties such as Russia to support rather than undermine its Eastern Partnership programme for six Eastern European and South Caucasus countries. However, tensions between the EU and Russia in the shared neighbourhood remain. The EU has not been particularly successful in persuading Moscow that the Eastern Partnership is not an anti-Russian project. While there are few open disputes between Russia and the EU over the issue, there are arguments behind closed doors. In 2011, tensions emerged over issues related to trade and energy. In September, Kremlin sources suggested that Russia might introduce trade restrictions against Ukraine if Kyiv did not join a customs union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and instead signed the DCFTA it is negotiating with the EU. While Russia opposed the DCFTA, European Commission officials and several EU foreign ministers said publicly that Russia should not pressure Ukraine to agree to a customs union that was incompatible with the DCFTA.
Russia and the EU had different agendas on energy as well. In previous years, Ukraine and Moldova joined the European Energy Community and began to implement the EU energy acquis, including the unbundling of energy companies under the so-called third energy package. This is likely to affect Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom’s current and future role in the Moldovan and Ukrainian energy markets. To counter this, Russia started lobbying Ukraine and Moldova to renege on their commitments to the EU. In December, Moldovan officials said that during negotiations with Gazprom, Chisinau was offered lower gas prices in exchange for reneging. Vladimir Putin’s call for the creation of a Eurasian Union in October prompted concerns in the EU of renewed Russian attempts to re-integrate the post-Soviet space, which would clearly contradict the EU’s objectives in the Eastern Partnership states. Although there has not yet been an open diplomatic clash between the EU and Russia, their fundamentally different interests prevented the emergence of any meaningful engagement.