The EU and the US were united but relatively unsuccessful in their approach to Russia in 2013.
Relations between the US and Russia worsened significantly in 2013 because of substantive differences on how to respond to Syria’s civil war, including the regime’s use of chemical weapons; domestic issues in Russia such as its harassment of gay people; and President Vladimir Putin’s decision to offer asylum to Edward Snowden. Apart from Snowden, where European formal support for US efforts to arrest Snowden were somewhat counterbalanced by general concern at his revelations, the EU was at one with the US and shared its assessment that Putin’s Russia will be much more difficult to deal with than former president Dmitry Medvedev’s.
At the beginning of its second term, the Obama administration signalled an interest in a new agreement that reduced stockpiles of nuclear weapons to build on the New START treaty and provided greater transparency on missile defence, but Putin was uninterested. The US and the EU worked closely together to advance EU Association Agreement negotiations with Armenia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia. At the time of writing, negotiations with two of these (Armenia and Ukraine) fell apart because of Russian economic and political pressure, although in Ukraine huge public demonstrations took place to protest against Russian coercion and President Viktor Yanukovych’s response. The US appears aware of the stakes and is working closely with Europeans to support Georgia and Moldova against Russian pressure.
While it is not quite right to say that relations between the West and Russia are at a post-Cold War low – 1999 and 2008 were arguably worse – they are more competitive and fraught now than in the early years of the Obama administration. The only silver lining was Russia’s co-operation in removing the regime’s chemical weapons from Syria, although France and the UK felt aggrieved that the US worked bilaterally with Moscow instead of through NATO. In NATO, Europe continues to be divided on Russia, as it was at the Chicago summit in 2012, with Eastern and Central European member states more concerned by Putin than Western European governments are.