Being friends with Europe: pros and cons

The European Union is one of Russia's most important partners. Not because cooperation can shield Russia against military threats: Europe is not significant militarily. Nor because it pays the best price for our oil and gas: experts predict that in 10-15 years, prices will level off in all markets. Indeed, Russia has more to gain from developing energy cooperation with Asia and the US, not limiting itself to Europe.

The significance of Europe to Russia is more to do with culture and civilisation. And yet, bonds with European tradition and norms of governance and business are precisely the components lacking in Russian reforms. They are essential, as they are more suited to the continental European country that is Russia than American or Asian development models.

However, strange as it may sound, the EU is also Russia's most difficult partner. Europe speaks about values and norms, while extending friendship to dodgy regimes in the former Soviet space hoping to outplay Russia. This is why Russians feel discomfort when, in talking with Europe, they have to fall back on old tactics of disguising true intentions with pious good wishes.

EU attempts to impose their own legal system as the basis for legal harmonisation cause concern and disappointment. It is difficult to dispute that, for the most part, European laws are more developed than Russian ones. All the same, even the best laws may cause resentment if used to further foreign policy ends. And yet no one, even in Brussels, would debate the fact that legal rapprochement is a key instrument of EU foreign policy.

Unfortunately, in initiating dialogue with Russia, Europe does not follow a logical joint workplan, instead seeking to be one step ahead by being first to propose a co-operation programme and trying to lead the way. The same is true of new co-operation areas, be it European security or opening up the Arctic. Europe's desire to be first is laudable, but not fruitful: we must plan and act together.

As a result, after long tugs of war, Russia and Europe find themselves blocking each other even as they talk about "genuine strategic partnership," initiate new dialogues and hail progress in implementing "road maps" of economic rapprochement. In reality, this merely widens the gap between growing economic interdependence and diminishing mutual understanding in the political field.

New relations between Russia and Europe have not yet gelled. The inability, of both Russia and the EU, to renounce pseudo-integration schemes of structural cooperation, as exemplified by joint road maps for the four common spaces, is a serious obstacle to a favourable scenario. In spite of evident change in the balance of power, many plans of cooperation proceed from the one-way-street concept, whereby Russian legislation should be brought in line with EU norms. Political commitment to a strategic alliance and the pseudo-integration model of trade and economic relations are obviously incompatible.

Dialogue tends to drift because, among other things, neither side has a clear vision of its strategic goals. Nonetheless, there are serious prerequisites for identifying common goals and common answers to the challenges of our time. The historical basis of strategic partnership between Russia and Europe is common civilisation and mutual harmony in the cultural, economic and social fields.

The fact there are no internal sources of militarist or nationalist tension in modern Europe makes it easier to co-ordinate mutual interests. The goal of structural stabilisation in Eurasia can be achieved through conscious co-operation between Russia and the EU.

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