In 2013, Europeans were at odds with Russia, which successfully undermined a DCFTA with Ukraine.
After years of more or less ignoring the EU’s Eastern Partnership policy, Moscow changed its policy fundamentally in 2013. At the Vilnius summit in November, Ukraine was expected to sign a DCFTA with the EU, and Georgia and Moldova were expected to sign free trade agreements. Moscow saw this as a threat and sought instead to integrate post-Soviet countries in a Russian-led customs union and in a Eurasian Economic Union that is incompatible with DCFTAs. Moscow put Armenia under pressure to join the customs union and tried to stop its integration into the EU by questioning its security guarantees to Azerbaijan. Russia also responded to the EU’s rapprochement with Ukraine with a ban on the import of Ukrainian products to Russia. Russia also increased pressure on Moldova by restricting the supply of energy and labour migration and banning the export of some goods to Russia.
Europeans were relatively united: Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle made a strong statement that Russian pressure on Eastern Partnership states was unacceptable. Member states were led by Sweden and Poland, which created the Eastern Partnership. Other leaders included Hungary, which kept the issue on the agenda of the Visegrad Four; Lithuania, which prepared the Association Agreements in its role as EU president; and Romania, which increased trade and energy links with Moldova in order to reduce its dependence on Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was also publicly critical of Russia.
However, Europeans underestimated Russian pressure on Eastern Partnership countries and were unable to make the Association Agreements attractive enough for some autocratic leaders in the region, who are interested in the kind of short-term benefits, such as credits and low gas prices, that Russia offers. Since the EU cannot compete with Russia in this area, it should focus its policy more on society than on elites. At the same time, the EU needs to find a response to Russia’s Eurasian Union project – a direct challenge to the EU in the region.