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Volume 5 - Issue 3 March 2015

The Growing Gap Between Russia And The West Putin’s recent eleven-day disappearance raised a lot of speculation about his health and the future of Russia. The Russian President reappeared and everything went back to ‘normal’. However, ‘normal’ has dramatically changed over the past year. The new normal is characterized by a high degree of tension between Russia and the West, epitomized by the economic sanctions Russia is faced with, but above all by the fact that territorial sovereignty has been violated. On March 18th, the Ukrainian separatists and Moscow celebrated the first anniversary of Crimea’s ‘return’ into the Russian Federation. The past year has reinforced Russia’s grasp on the separatist region and highlighted the West’s powerlessness in face of the situation. It has also increased the fear of Ukraine’s neighboring countries’, namely the Baltic countries and Poland, as some fear they are next in line for a Russian invasion. This issue aims to analyze how and why we have found ourselves in a situation where the gap between Russia and the West is growing everyday. - Flora Pidoux Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, during peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, in February 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

Contents: Is The Kremlin Heading For Cold War II? Mr. Ofer Fridman analyzes Russia’s unique perception on war, which has been shaped by the country’s unique geographical and historical characteristics.

The Gap Between Russia And The West Mr. Tommy Alexander Lund gives recommendations from Georgia’s South-Ossetia issue that could be applied to Ukraine when facing the current crisis.

From Europe To Eurasia: Russia’s Shifting Economic And Political Focus Ms. Catherine Lefèvre’s article focuses on each parties’ policies that keep pushing them away from each other, namely the West’s sanctions against Russia and the latter’s effort to build a strong Eurasian Economic Union to counteract the EU. 1

Is the Kremlin Heading for Cold War II? By Ofer Fridman


he past year has probably been the most

first time in Russian history that an agreement, which was

challenging period in NATO-Russian rela-

signed with another state, defined Russian domestic re-

tions since the end of the Cold War. The

forms, and, from the Russian perspective, where Moscow

escalation of the Ukrainian crisis and the following con-

accepted the US as an external referee for its internal re-

frontation between the Kremlin and the West has trig-


gered many speculations about the possibility of a Second Cold War. Western experts are puzzled by Russian policy decision-makers, the Kremlin’s real intentions in Ukraine and how far Moscow is willing to go in its relations with the West. This article discusses the evolution of Russian foreign policy in the past twenty-five years and some predispositions of Russian culture in an attempt to establish a more constructive view of the real motives behind the decisions taken by the Kremlin. The Evolution Of Russian Foreign Policy And The Ukrainian Crisis The Cold War ended, similarly to other big wars of the 20th century, with a clear winner and a clear loser.

This policy started to change during the mid-1990s for two main reasons. The first one was domestic. Internal pro-Western decentralisation policies, formulated in an attempt to be appreciated by the West, created economic chaos, notions of separatism and the potential danger of additional secessions. The second reason stemmed from the Western reaction, or lack thereof, to the Russian attempt to Westernise itself. According to Russian analysts, the West showed little appreciation for Russia’s willingness to conform to western principles and did not show any desire for integration with an economically struggling, politically unstable state that had been, until recently, its number one enemy.

While there were many countries and nations that con-

While the course of Russian foreign policy generally

sidered themselves victors, Russia was the only nation

preserved its pro-Western narratives, the main emphasis

that was not only defeated in the Cold War, but also felt

of Moscow’s new doctrine changed in the second half of

defeated. Although NATO's tanks did not parade on the

the 1990s, from an unequivocal agreement, to political

Red Square – there was no need for it – the Russian

bargaining. Utilising the political advantages of being the

economy was destroyed, political instability and corrup-

only successor of the USSR, i.e., the biggest nuclear pow-

tion tore the country apart, and most importantly the

er and a permanent member of the UN Security Council,

Russian people felt deeply defeated, an entirely new

Moscow started to replace the ‘romanticism’ of the early

feeling for a nation that had never really lost a war.

1990s with a more pragmatic approach. The Kremlin

In the early 1990s, this feeling led Russian political decision-makers to believe that Russian domestic and international success would result by becoming a part of the West. The best example of Russian attempts to be integrated with the West was the 1992 Charter for American-Russian Partnership and Friendship. It was the

carefully began to demonstrate and defend its interests. The best example of this transformation is Moscow’s reaction to the Kosovo crisis. The Kremlin’s support of the NATO-led peacekeeping operations in 1995 and 1996 (mainly due to the fact that Russia was a part of the solution) was replaced by a firm opposition to the NATO intervention in 1999.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


Meanwhile, the Russian economy started to recover.

dent Putin. On the other hand, many Russian analysts

Building on rising oil and gas revenues, the Russian econom-

claim that Russian intervention clearly reflects the rising

ic growth of the first part of 2000s was unprecedentedly

power of Russian nationalism. In analysing the different

high and fast. This success had an immediate influence on

trends in Russian public opinion, it seems right to claim

domestic public opinion that considered Putin as the ‘savior

that the Russian people support their government and

of the nation’, ‘restorer of order’, and ‘distributor of

their President, and are ready to pay the price of a West-

wealth.’ Consequently, it was not surprising that on this

ern reaction. To understand this, it is important to focus

wave of economic success and domestic support, the Krem-

on Russia’s cultural perspective on war, or, in other

lin started to re-evaluate its position in global affairs.

words, on when the Russian people are ready to defend

Building on its economic success, the Kremlin was finally

their interests and ultimately pay the price for them.

able to reconsider its position regarding the West. The com-

Russian Cultural Perspective On War And The

bination of economic growth and the Soviet legacy in for-

Ukrainian Crisis

eign policy transformed Russia back into one of the most

Russia has always enjoyed the advantages of having

significant international players. It was the beginning of a

access to a massive territory. However the lack of natural

new period in Russian foreign affairs – a period of “Russian

geographical borders left this enormous flatland unpro-

Revitalisation” based on segregation from the West.

tected and exposed to invasions. This geographical vul-

In 2008, Putin left the presidential office and was re-

nerability has had throughout history one the most signifi-

placed by Medvedev. While the West naively interpreted

cant influences on the composition of the Russian charac-

this move as a change of leadership, Russian political ana-

ter. Geographically unprotected and placed between the

lysts had no doubt that Putin, formally the prime minister,

centres of two different civilisations (the Western and the

was in fact Russia’s top leader. Putin gave Medvedev a man-

Asian) Russia had suffered repetitive invasions through its

date to pursue a more liberal foreign policy in an attempt to

history. In 1236, the Mongol Empire (the Golden Horde)

improve the Kremlin’s relationships with the West – a sort

conquered most of Kievan Rus’ and established more

of scouting mission, to try to determine what was possible

than 200 years of the Tatar-Mongol Yoke; in 1571,

to achieve with the United States and Europe.

the Crimean Khan Devlet I Giray raided the Tsardom of

Four years later, after understanding that Medvedev’s liberal approach did not show any signs of success, Putin decided to come back to office as President in 2012. Since then, Putin has paid special attention to the implementation of the “Russian Revitalisation” concept in foreign policy. It was not an aggressive change but an amplification of several major narratives that had underlain Russian foreign policy since the mid-2000s.

Russia and set Moscow on fire; in 1610 the Polish King Sigismund III occupied most of the western part of the Tsardom, putting his son Wladyslaw IV Vasa on the Russian throne (although the son never actually ruled); in 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia, defeating the Russian army and conquering Moscow; and finally, in 1942, German forces occupied most of the European part of the USSR, besieging Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad. This ruthless military experience predetermined the Russian

The culmination of this aggressive approach is the crisis in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s intervention in the conflict. On the one hand, Russia’s support to the Ukrainian separatists was a direct continuation of the Kremlin’s foreign

mind to a defence without support, to rely only on their own forces, distrust all allies and to eternally wait for the danger of a new invasion or attack that can materialise at any time.

policy course that has been undoubtedly designed by PresiAtlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


In the Russian mind, Russian history is the history of

the historical southern part of Russia and 74% see Crimea

defence; accessible from all flanks, Russia was a kind of

as Russian land. Building on their aforementioned histori-

a ‘sweet booty’ for the nomadic East, as well as for the

cal and cultural predispositions, Russians are ready to

settled West. This territorial vulnerability has always

suffer the consequences of Western reactions, or at least

been an incentive that drove Russians to expand their

as long as they feel righteousness and trust their leader-

territory by conquest (Russian Empire or the USSR) or

ship to lead them to victory regardless of the costs. They

by economic or political pressure (the Commonwealth

are ready to endure reducing their spending and their

of Independent States or the Eurasian Custom Union),

needs, but they are not ready to change their attitude to-

thus protecting Central Russia – the historical heart of

ward what they perceive as a just battle.

the Russian state.

The Ukrainian Crisis – Implications For NATO

All the major wars that designed the Russian charac-

Some western experts see President Putin as pri-

ter occurred on Russian territory, extensively involving

marily responsible for the course of the Russian foreign

the Russian civilian population and encoding within the

policy and the Russian intervention in Ukraine. The big

Russian mind that war is a choice between fighting and

picture, however, is much more complicated. “Bringing

being destroyed. Obviously, the general Russian reac-

Crimea back home” was barely an act of pure Russian

tion to war involves more universal merits, such as pro-

imperialism or an attempt to rehabilitate Soviet influence

tection of the nation, of the home, religion, state, etc.;

on a rebelling country.

but as a result of the historically established belief that war is a people’s affair rather than a state’s – the most fundamental reason for war in the Russian mentality is the protection of one’s life and one’s family. While the West fights to make the world better, Russia fights to survive.

On the one hand, it is easy to argue that Russia seeks equality with the West, and as the West (especially the U.S.) is not ready to give up its leading positions, the Kremlin expedites confrontation. Based on the Russian and Soviet Imperial legacy it is also easy to interpret Moscow’s position as an attempt for a dramatic comeback to

The notion of war is sunken deep within the Russian

the global arena. On the other hand, however, it is im-

character and its modern interpretation is not far from

portant to understand that in the Russian context, foreign

the Russian traditional explanation of war, as described

policy pursued by the Kremlin and the attempts of the

above. The Russian historical narrative of war – protect-

Russian leaders (Tsars, General Secretaries of the Com-

ing one’s life and one’s family, fighting to survive rather

munist Party, or Presidents) to get the domestic support

than to better the world – seems to be as concrete as

required to stay in power, have always been interconnect-

ever before at the beginning of the 21st century.

ed. History has shown that whenever the political leader-

In the eyes of the Russian people, the Kremlin’s intervention in Ukraine is considered to be a fully justi-

ship executed foreign policy against the will of the people, it always ended in a coup.

fied struggle, as it protects the Russian people and their

Russian people have always been ready to defend

land. Different surveys, done by a Russian non-

their Fatherland facing a foreign enemy. From the 13th

governmental research organization, the “Levada Cen-

century’s Tatar-Mongol Yoke, and through to Napoleon’s

ter” (famous for its criticism of the Kremlin leadership),

and Hitler’s campaigns, the Russians demonstrated in-

show that 46% of Russians believe that Novorossiya is

credible levels of patriotism and readiness to fight against

Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


the adversary and were ready to suffer the consequences of

power was overestimated for so long.

protecting their country. While some western experts

It seems, however, that this lesson has been forgot-

claim that the intervention in Ukraine was explicitly used to

ten, as the main discourse between Western experts is

generate domestic political support, the opposite might be

about the Kremlin’s political domestic weaknesses rather

true. As some Russian analysts claim, the Kremlin’s deci-

than masterful political system that skilfully manipulates

sion to take Crimea back was, in fact, an act intended to

the public opinion on the one hand, and knows to comply

avoid public unrest and redirect Russian rising nationalism.

with the emerging cultural trends on the other. While

As previously discussed, historical-cultural predispositions have led Russians to believe that the lives of their people have to be protected at any cost. Putin knows that despite any reservations about their national leaders, Russian people will rally around their leaders for the duration of a just struggle, and in exchange, they expect their leaders to stand firm and lead them to victory. Putin has little choice but to show himself as the straightest nationalist in Russia

the very relevant question in the title of this article is whether the Kremlin is heading for a Cold War II, the answer seems to be irrelevant. History proves that in the wave of nationalism and patriotism, the Russian people, led by a strong leader, demonstrate levels of endurance and sacrifice that cannot be grasped by the Western mind that has entirely different cultural predispositions and interpretation of conflict.

(as he proudly proclaimed himself at the 2014 Valdai Dis-

From many perspectives, Russia is still an enigma.

cussion Club) and lead his people into the conflict that they

Learning from history, however, it seems wise to prepare

are ready to be a part of.

for the worst, that is to say to overestimate Russia and

While many western experts interpret Putin’s intervention in Ukraine as an attempt to recruit the masses in times of domestic political vulnerability, the West, in general and NATO in particular, should not underestimate neither Putin’s grip on power, nor the credit and support that the Russian people give him. Putin did not reinvent Russian nationalism but he turned himself into its leader. Undoubtedly, one of the real reasons behind Russian intervention in Ukraine is Putin’s personal ambitions, but the cultural and historical based willpower of the Russian people is the engine that empowered Putin to act - willpower that even Putin has to comply with. NATO decision makers who assess Russia in light of the Ukrainian crisis, should remember that the Cold War was won only due to a 40 year-long military and political overestimation of the USSR power, especially Russian domestic politics. The fall of the USSR was a complete surprise for

assume that the Kremlin is heading for a new Cold War, rather than to base the decision-making process on the assumption that Putin is weak. Too many times, during the history, Russia surprised countries that were not prepared for worst-case scenario, and NATO should learn this lesson.

About the author Ofer Fridman is a PhD Candidate and Sessional Lecture at the University of Reading, UK.

Bibliography D. Trenin, Russia’s Breakout from the Post-Cold War System: The Drivers of Putin’s Course, (Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 2014) Bogaturov, ‘The three generations of the Russian Foreign Policy Doctrines’, Mezhdunarodnyye Protsessy, Volume 5, No. 1(3), January-February 2007, (Russian) Levada Analytical Center (Levada Center), ‘The accession of Crimea and the involvement of Russian volunteers in the East-Ukrainian conflict’, 10.11.2014

the West that could not grasp the weakness of the Soviet leadership in the late 1990s – leadership, whose grip on Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


The Gap between Russia and the West By Tommy Alexander Lund


here was a sign of relief in the corri-

wiped out personal savings and led to the financial crisis

dors of the European Commission

of 1998. The scars from this period still seem to influ-

when the results from the Moldovan

ence the ambition of Russia today. Until the economic

parliamentary election were announced in Novem-

sanctions imposed by the western world started in

ber last year. The pro-European bloc managed to get

March 2014, Russia experienced an average 7% GDP

a majority in the parliament, which ensured that the

growth from 2000-2008, and poverty decreased from

Association Agreement they had signed in June 2014

30% of the population to 14% in the same period.

with the European Union would be pushed further.

Putin managed to use economic resources to force

For Russia, it was another reminder that the countries that were once in the geo-political sphere of the Kremlin were getting further and further away from its influence. It also emphasized that the only country to the West of Russia that had not signed an Association Agreement was Ukraine. From Putin’s perspective, if Kiev signed such an agreement with the EU, it would definitely put an end to his dream of holding the same influence in world politics as the Soviet Union once did, but more importantly, it portrayed Russia as a weak regional power. This paper argues that the best solution for Ukraine lies neither with NATO nor Russia. The EU and NATO must continue their efforts to build up economic and political relationships with Ukraine without fully incorporating them into their organizations. This paper tries to understand Russian motivations from the perspective of the last 10 years and focuses on Georgia’s experience in regards to Russian aggression.

countries like Armenia and Kazakhstan away from the negotiation table with the EU to direct them towards the Kremlin-controlled Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Putin himself saw the Eurasian Economic Union as a direct opponent to the European Union. However, the future of the EEU is unsure now that the economic incentives Moscow offered have shrunk due to the financial sanctions imposed by the West following the annexation of Crimea and the collapse of oil prices. The illusion of democracy is vital for Russia, as the country wants to be seen as a modern country that respect international principles, and therefore be considered as a global leader. The western world has accepted Moscow’s undemocratic practices as the only alternative to the chaos of the unregulated and corrupted Russia of the 90´s. Despite the clear anti-democratic tendencies that Russia has gone under with Putin, his popularity is still on the high end of the chart, without any indication that this will change anytime soon. It hit its peak in August and has only shown a slight downfall even though the economic structure and stability is de-

A Need To Understand Russia

scribed as “second to only Venezuela” on the negative end

When the Soviet Union was dissolved, Russia was

of the CNBC chart on potential for long-term economic

on the brink of an economic collapse. The transition

growth. Some of the reason for the President’s popular-

to market economy created a hyperinflation that

ity can be attributed to the stability he established in the

Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


short time after he ascended to the presidency. Combined

the leadership of Vladimir Putin. The annexation of

with the drastically increased standards of living for the

Crimea led many observers to believe that a funda-

average Russian citizen in the years after Yeltsin, Putin is

mental paradigm shift was happening, from politics

seen as the man who could lead the country back to the

based on a state driven foreign policy to one based on

world stage as a noticeable actor. Although Russia is now

ethno-nationalist ideas. However, the relationship

facing an economic downturn, the situation is still far from

between Russia and Ukraine was on the edge long

what it was right after the Cold War, and many Russians

before the Maidan revolts, as illustrated by the years

are grateful for that.

of political tensions following the Orange Revolution

The Russian President was also successful as an international diplomat. When the US was on the brink of a new armed conflict with Syria following the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, it was Putin who offered a solution to the conflict. The events and Russia’s

in Ukraine in 2004. The appeasement of the situation under the Ukrainian president Yanukovych led the international community to hope for regional stability. The signing of the controversial Kharkiv Pact be-


tween Kiev and Moscow in 2010 gave Russia a lease

“solution” forced the interna-

on the Black Sea bases in

tional community to accept

Crimea until 2042. In re-

that Russia was a global actor

turn, Ukraine got a heavily

to reckon with. According to

discounted price on Rus-

Time, it was “the first time in a

sian natural gas from Gaz-

generation that Russia managed to

prom. Despite the im-

pull such a diplomatic maneuver.”

provement in relationships




Putin made his country stronger and more influential

Former Presidents Dimitry Medvedev and Viktor Yanukovych signing the Kharkiv Pact 21 April 2010 (Photo:

as time went by. Before the crisis in Ukraine, there was no sign that could suggest that Russia would not expand its role as a global and influential actor. So why did Putin gamble away his political prestige and a strong economic growth to destabilize Ukraine? Russian Expansion

between the former two Soviet countries following

the election of a pro-Russian government, underlying tensions remained. While the Kremlin had the ambition to include Ukraine in the Eurasian Customs Union, Yanukovych said no, knowing it would close the door for a future membership in both NATO and the EU. In the events that led to the Maidan protests, Russia offered further discounts on energy prices and

The annexation of Crimea was, for Russia, a demon-

much larger financial aid than the EU could offer. As a

stration of power which also acted as a test to see how the

result, Yanukovych announced his decision to post-

West would react. As a result, the relationship with both

pone a further cooperation agreement with the EU.

the US and the EU sunk to a new low, and the Western

The situation escalated and Yanukovych fled in the

governments imposed sanctions that badly hurt the Rus-

midst of the protest. The Kremlin blamed the West

sian economy. In response, Russia increased the national-

for illegally deposing a democratically elected govern-

istic and anti-Western rhetoric to unite the country under

ment and refused to recognize the new government.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


Since 1991 each government that has led Ukraine

Russia, the expansion of western influence into Rus-

has stated that the country is a part of the European

sia’s traditional sphere of influence had gone too far.

continent and that the country’s future identity is Eu-

As they did in 2008 in South Ossetia, Russia felt that

ropean. However, the implementation of this policy

they had justification to invade another country.

has been delayed by factors such as corruption, irrational decision-making and international meddling from outside actors. The economic situation of Ukraine in 2013 gave Yanukovych no choice than to accept the economic and political terms demanded by Putin. Before Maidan protests started, the situation in Ukraine was dire. Foreign debt had reached 77% of GDP and foreign reserves had fallen by 30%. Mykola Azarov, the Former Ukrainian Prime Minister, called the IMF’s demands for an EU

The Lesson From South-Ossetia The cases of the war in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 are noticeably similar. First, both Georgia and Ukraine have pushed forward with membership in both NATO and the EU. In 2013, Mikheil Saakashvili stated in a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry that Georgia´s survival was dependent on further integration within Western institutions. Both countries were denied membership at the NATO summit in Bucharest

financial package was “the

in 2008, just five months

straw that broke the camel´s

before the start of the South

back”. A look from a financial

Ossetia war. Second, in both

and economic perspective tell

instances Russia justified its

us that Ukraine was backed

aggression with the reason of

into a corner, and did not want

protecting Russian speakers

to go through the same economical slimming diet that Greece



A referendum poster in Crimea (Photo: Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA)

and citizens. Even though the similarities

Hadja, a history professor at Harvard, explained the

and parallels to the South Ossetia war are numerous,

following events as a different view on what the trade

there are some important differences. While Georgia

agreement stood for. While the politicians saw it as an

was in direct military confrontation with Russia,

economic agreement that would take sovereignty

Ukraine is still officially in a state of civil conflict

away from Ukraine, the demonstrators of Maidan

where Russian denies direct involvement with mili-

Square saw it as a political agreement that committed

tary forces. In addition attention on Ukraine is much

Ukraine to adhere to certain European values and

higher because of its direct borders with NATO and

principles, an opportunity for them to fight corrup-

EU member states.


The South-Ossetia war also showed that even

For Russia, the Maidan riots was not just loss of

though Russia could claim a victory, their ability to

control of Ukraine, it was a diplomatic humiliation

meddle in Georgia has been less than expected. Geor-

that could not go unnoticed. While Russia just pas-

gia did not join EEU and now has closer ties to the EU

sively grumbled under the Orange Revolution, they

than ever before. As of the third quarter of 2014,

now saw the Maidan events as direct provocation. For

their economic growth was 5, 6%. Georgia has shown

Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


that making a deal with Russia is not synonymous with

Western sentiment and nationalism in Russia, it is rea-

giving the Kremlin control of the country. An example

sonable to believe that a normalization of diplomatic

Ukraine can learn from in the future.

relations between the West and the heir of the USSR is over. There will still be Russian flights over the Baltic

Balancing The Diplomacy

and submarines down the Norwegian coast. The nor-

The lack of commitment from the Ukrainian government to reform did not go without consequences. Crimea is now under Russian control and populated by a majority of pro-Russian inhabitants; the industrial stronghold in the South-East is under control by separatists and the resources Ukraine sits on are used to wage a war against separatists. For many other European countries, the situation is worrying. The dilemma of having Russia as an ally

malization period of the 90´s and early 2000’s is over. Now is the time to admit that Russia and the West are competing for the same international market. This does not mean that there should be a new Iron Curtain in Europe. The factories in the east of Ukraine are still of vital importance to Russia since it produces goods that are vital for its military, and the majority of Eastern Ukrainians identify themselves as Russian.

and having access to Russian gas and energy is vital for The situation in Ukraine forms only part of a larger

countries like Poland and Germa-

picture. However it can be ex-

ny, however putting the security

pected that there will be no going

of the EU and NATO’s closest

back to normal political relations

members at risk is not acceptable.

between Russia, Ukraine and the Ukraine has become the main

West. Neither Ukraine nor the

reason for the gap between the

EU can afford to let Russia take

West and Russia over the past year. As previously discussed, Ukraine is an independent country

Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko at the Peace talks in Minsk in September 2014. (Photo: Roland Oliphant. The Telegraph.)

that does not desire to be subjected to Russian interests. Even the pro-Russian former President Victor Yanukovitch declined to engage his country into the Eurasian Custom Union, and it was only when his back was against the wall that he agreed to discontinue the partnership with the EU.

more Ukrainian territory and incorporate it into the federation. The fear that it will promote a

pro-Russia uprising in the pro-Russian regions of the Baltics and Moldova is real. Ukraine has signaled that it is willing to cede a good deal of autonomy to its eastern regions, but not give away the sovereignty to Russia. Ukraine is not a healthy country. Corruption and heavy bureaucratic red tape is still affecting the effi-

Ukraine is however still not ready for a fully commit-

ciency of the country. To survive they will need heavy

ted relationship with the EU, in any shape or form. The

economic help from either the West or Russia. This is

future road for the country is to take advice from the

difficult since especially Germany is hesitant to put

West and take the time to build up the social and cultural

Ukraine on the same economic restrictions as Greece

infrastructure needed to reach European standards, a

as it could destabilize Ukraine further. Russia on the

strategy proven successful in many cases.

other hand is losing money on maintaining control over

The relationship between Russia, the EU and Ukraine

Crimea. A solution is desirable for both sides economi-

is very complicated. Looking from the rise of anti-

cally, but the terms must meet the high expectations of

Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


each side of the negotiation table. Conclusion Shall Ukraine prosper, a middle ground should be found somewhere between the EU and Russia. It is in the West’s interest to recognize that Russia’s fears of NATO are real; a simple look at the map will tell that including Ukraine into NATO would change the power balance. When the inclusion of Ukraine into the EU would defeat Russia politically, an inclusion into NATO would be seen as a direct threat against their territorial integrity. With NATO off the table, Europe will have a stronger hand for Ukraine in future negotiations with Russia. The best path Ukraine can take is to learn from Georgia. The latter has shown that close relations with the European Union are still possible even after a direct conflict with Russia. The biggest problem with Ukraine is it internal governmental structure. The focus on long term planning and institution building is vital for the future of Ukraine. As long as resources go to military build-up, Ukraine will be deadlocked in a vacuum between East and West. Ukraine has no other choices than to find the middle-road.

About the author Tommy Alexander Lund recently concluded a Master’s Degree in Social Science with specialization in Political marketing at Copenhagen Business School. Mr. Lund has previously worked as military officer in the Norwegian Navy and written several articles about political and diplomatic culture in Europe.

Bibliography Vladimir Putin statement viewed on 25.02.2015 department of State: Status on Russia. Viewed on Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3

26.02.2015: organization/160474.pdf The Atlantic: Russian Ruble crashes. Viewed on 25.02.2015 archive/2014/12/putin-man-year-russia-ruble/383809/ Friedrich ebert stiftung. The future of EU-Ukraine Relations. Viewed 25.02.2015 id-moe/10608.pdf Harvard. The conflict in Ukraine: a Historical Perspective. Viewed 19.02.2015 blog-news-events/conflict-ukraine-historical-perspective Time Magazine: Russia celebrates a Triumph for Putin after clinching Syria deal. Viewed on 21.02.2015 Stratfor: Baltic concerned about large Russian minority. Viewed on 21.02.2015 -about-large-russian-minority Tsygankov Andrei: Vladimir Putin´s last stand: the sources of Russia´s Ukraine policy. 12 December 2014. pdf/10.1080/1060586X.2015.1005903 The Guardian: Let Georgia be a lesson for what will happen to Ukraine. Viewed on 28.February 2015. mar/14/georgia-lesson-for-ukraine-crimea-referendumtrick Forbes: The invasion of Crimea is hurting Russias other exclave. Viewed on 27.02.2015 -invasion-of-crimea-is-hurting-russias-other-exclave/ London School of economics and political science: EURussian relations have been further strained by Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine’s decision to sign agreements with the EU. Viewed on 22.02.2015 Oxford institute for Energy Studies: The Impact of the Russia–Ukraine Gas Crisis in South Eastern Europe.March 2009. uploads/2010/11/NG29TheImpactoftheRussiaUkrainianCrisisinSouthEasternEurop e-AleksandarKovacevic-2009.pdf H Haukkala. 2014. From cooperative to contested Europe? The conflict in Ukraine as a culimination of a long-term crisis in EU-Russia relations abs/10.1080/14782804.2014.1001822#.VPcm-2MsE9U A Łoskot-Strachota, G Zachmann. 2014. Rebalancing the EU-Russia-Ukraine gas relationship Korosteleva, Elena (2014) Moldova’s Values Survey: Widening a European Dialogue in Moldova. Project report. 10

From Europe To Eurasia: Russia’s Shifting Economic And Political Focus By Catherine Lefèvre


he events of 2014 in Ukraine were funda-

mately unsuccessful. There are a number of reasons and

mental in changing the dynamics between

theories as to why, but many argue that despite Russia’s

Russia and the West as their relationship

efforts, the West was simply unwilling to fully integrate

reached its lowest point since the disintegration of the

with Russia. Any integration it had achieved happened for

Soviet Union. It is no secret that Russia’s relationship

primarily political or strategic reasons, not out of the

with the West had already begun to cool down by mid-

West’s desire to include Russia or integrate with it.

2000, but the current situation would be best described as

Despite this, in his first term as President, Vladimir

icy. However, whilst the Ukraine crisis and subsequent

Putin seemed to be welcoming integration with the West.

annexation of Crimea have driven a wedge between Rus-

After the NATO airstrikes on Serbia in March 1999, Rus-

sia and the West, another more

sia had suspended its relations

long-term development may yet

with the organization, but after

push the two further apart, espe-

Putin became the acting presi-

cially if the West persists in its

dent of Russia in early 2000 he

current policy of sanctions and

resumed Russia’s relations with


NATO. After the events of Sep-

How, When and Why Did Russia Distance Itself From

G8 Nation Leaders, Italy 2009 (Photo: g8Italia2009)

The West?

tember 11th 2001, Russia and

the West once again began to converge as Russia formed a

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991

new alliance with the US, renewed its relations with the

and as many former Soviet countries began to move to-

EU and NATO, and supported the US war on terror.

wards the West, Russia was presented with a new geopo-

During this period, Putin also proposed a deal to the US

litical landscape. As a result, it also endeavored to move

through which they would accept its global leadership in

closer to and integrate with the West.

return for being recognized as a major player in charge of

Moscow began to cooperate with NATO and develop

the former Soviet sphere of influence.

good relations with the US under the leadership of Boris

However, this offer was rejected by the US in 2001 as

Yeltsin. This culminated under Bill Clinton, who success-

it was not prepared to allow Russia to reign freely over

fully pushed for the addition of Russia to the G-7 in the

the recently independent former Soviet countries. After

late 1990’s, despite protest from Germany and the United

this, Russia tried a new tactic and sided with the Europe-


an countries that had opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq

However, these attempts at integration were ulti

in 2003. It hoped that by partnering with Germany and France it would counterbalance the US and the UK and

Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


would be offered to join the West by siding with Eu-

moting integration and good relations in the former

rope. But despite having previously enjoyed good re-

Soviet region. Immediately after the break-up of the

lations with France, Germany and the US government

Soviet Union, CIS was formed and over the proceed-

under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s hopes

ing decade many other initiatives were set up to pro-

did not materialize and the country was left out in the

mote economic integration such as a free trade agree-


ment and the Eurasian Economic Community

Also in 2003, the EU developed its European

(EurAsEC) in 2000.

Neighborhood Policy (ENP), which focused on coun-

Later in 2007, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan

tries located in the shared neighborhood between it-

signed an agreement to set up a Eurasian Customs

self and Russia. Through the ENP, Europe began to

Union (ECU) in another effort to promote Eurasian

expand further east towards Central and Eastern Eu-

economic integration. The three founding countries

rope with the aim of promoting peace and stability in

later expanded on the ECU framework through the

these neighboring countries, many of which were for-

introduction of a common customs tariff launched in

merly part of Russia’s sphere of influence. With the

2010. The following year they introduced a common

US and Europe promoting governmental changes and

customs territory plan that removed border checks

Western values in these countries, Russia felt threat-

and controls between participating countries.


Subsequently, all three countries decided to con-

As the ENP was being launched, Vladimir Putin

tinue the expansion of the ECU, paving the way for

was reelected for a second presidential term from

continued economic integration and the creation of a

2004–2008. In contrast to his previously pro-West

single Eurasian market supported by an economic un-

agenda, Putin had adopted a more assertive foreign

ion. In late 2011, Moscow, Minsk and Astana signed a

policy agenda and opted to make Russia an independ-

treaty that aimed at the creation of a new economic

ent power, distanced from the West.

union based on the model of the EU, and established

For the first time since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia’s relationship with both the US and Europe had deteriorated simultaneously between 2003-2005.

the Eurasian Commission and the Single Economic Space (SES). Russia in particular considered the creation of an economic union to be a priority. In the meantime, the EU continued to expand further East until it reached Ukraine, a country located

The New Quietly Emerging Sphere Of Influence: The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)

With Russia feeling increasingly excluded and further distancing itself from the West, it dramatically increased its focus on its immediate neighborhood, ultimately culminating in the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The EEU is not the first Russian attempt at proAtlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3

strategically between the European Union and Russia, and considered by many to be the cradle of Russian civilization. Both entities made an offer to Ukraine to join their union, instigating an intense and divisive power struggle within Ukraine. Despite the general public opinion in Ukraine showing favour towards the EU, in November 2013 the then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych decided to move closer towards 12

Russia instead of signing an association agreement with

and armament sectors; US citizens were prevented

the EU, plunging the country into widespread protests.

from trading with three Russian banks, the EU limited

The crisis in Ukraine progressed rapidly as protests escalated all over the country. President Yanukovych was ousted in February 2014, and in March Crimea voted in a Russian-supported referendum considered illegitimate by the West and Ukraine, to join Russia. The same month,

Russian institutions from accessing its markets, Russia had its access to sensitive technologies restricted and a trade embargo on weapons imposed. In retaliation, Russia limited its imports of Western produce and meat.

the EU and the US decided to impose sanctions on Russia

These sanctions have had the desired detrimental

ranging from travel bans to the freezing of assets belong-

effect on the Russian economy: they have made Russia

ing to officials that had enabled the Crimean referendum.

highly dependent on its oil exports and with oil prices

In May 2014 the presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus signed a treaty to officially establish the Eurasian

dropping to their lowest level in years, and with inflation on the rise causing the value of the Ruble to drop by over 40%, the Russian economy has begun to stag-

Economic Union (EEU). In doing

nate. Indeed, after these latest

so, they committed to guarantee-

sanctions, Russia experienced

ing the free movement of people,

its first negative growth since

capital, goods and services and to

2009, and further sanctions

working together to coordinate

could easily put its economy

economic policy in areas such as

into recession. However, these

agriculture, energy, transport and

sanctions also have a negative

industry. With many accusing Russia of acting as an agent provocateur in

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Russian President Vladimir Putin sign the treaty creating the Eurasian Economic Union on May 30th 2014 (Photo:

Ukraine, annexing Crimea and

effect on the economy of the West as business and exports with Russia become increasing-

ly limited.

moving further away from the West through the EEU, many commentators at this time were proclaiming the highest tensions between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

However, despite the sanctions and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, Russia launched its EEU project on the 1st of January 2015. The first member to join the EEU outside of the three founding members was Ar-

However, the worst was still yet to come. In July 2014 Russia’s relationship with the West suffered another blow with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 above Eastern Ukraine, territory under the control of pro -Russian separatists.

menia who became a member on the second of January 2015, having signed an agreement in October 2014. The second will be Kyrgyzstan in May 2015, after signing up in December 2014, and other countries have expressed an interest in doing business with the EEU.

This event led to yet more sanctions being imposed on

In February 2015 the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah

Russia by the EU and the US in an effort to weaken its

al-Sisi declared in Cairo that Egypt will establish a free

economy. The sanctions focused on the energy, finance

trade zone with the EEU. Negotiations between India

Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


and the EEU are also in progress.

However, just as with the sanctions, the EU’s stance on the ECU and EEU may work against it in the

Western Sanctions Side Effects

Although primarily focused on targeting Russia, the Western sanctions have also had the side effect of causing disagreements over trade between EEU members. In contradiction to the EEU’s free movement of goods, Russia banned the importation of certain goods from Belarus in 2014 to prevent it from reselling EU goods to Russia, and similarly prevented food exports from Belarus to Kazakhstan by not allowing it to transit through Russian territo-

long term; cooperation with the EEU could potentially aid both institutions, politically and economically and therefore help reduce the gap between Russia and the West. Indeed, in recent months the EU has softened its approach to the EEU, even going so far as to consider Russia’s proposal to formalize relations between itself and the EEU through the creation of a Free Trade Area. However, many commentators attribute this softer


approach by the EU to be in response to the immediate The EEU And The EU

The EEU is by far the most sophisticated type of customs union achieved in the post-Soviet space and the fur-

need to appease Russia in an attempt to ease tensions in Ukraine, as opposed to an effort to truly engage politically and economically with the EEU.

thest it has come in terms of full economic integration. After the addition of Kyrgyzstan, the EEU will have a population of over 175 million people and cover 15 percent of the world’s land mass. Whilst these statistics are impressive, they are also concerning for some, especially the EU who worry that the EEU is simply another attempt by Russia to reassert its influence and power over the post-Soviet sphere. Since the birth of the ECU, the EU has been cautious in its approach, maintaining only certain contacts and a monitoring role. The EU’s primary concern with the Customs Union, and subsequently the Eurasian Economic Union, is the effect it has on its relations with Russia. Through the ECU Russia has insisted on working at only supranational level – that is ECU to EU – rather than on a country-by-country basis. The EU was hesitant to do so given that it considered the ECU to be fundamentally flawed in its design, offering little in the way of true free trade, and its suspicion that is was also simply a tool for Russia to reassert itself in

Conclusion & Recommendations

The growing gap between Russia and the West cannot be blamed solely on Russia; through successive exclusion, the West has to shoulder some of the blame for the current state of East–West relations. If this situation is to be reversed, the West, specifically the EU, needs to start cooperating with the EEU in order to bridge the gap in their relations. Whilst the EU has so far taken some steps towards this, there is still a long way to go, and given the current sanctions any dialogue will be difficult. The EU’s hesitance is understandable given recent events and its reservations about the EEU’s precursor, the Eurasian Customs Union. However, if both organizations cooperate, even only on a basic level, it could substantially help to improve not only their relationship but East-West relations in general.

About the author

the post-Soviet space. This suspicion is understandable

Catherine Lefèvre holds a bachelors degree in Inter-

given Russia’s disregard for sovereignty as illustrated in

national Relations and masters degree in Public Policy.

the Ukraine and Crimea crises.

She currently works as a director at the policy institute

Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3


she co-founded in 2013, Global Public Policy Watch

radical right regime in Russia (1st ed., pp. 103-104). Basingstoke, Eng-

( She has previously worked as a re-

land: Palgrave Macmillan.

searcher in London and Glasgow in the UK and as an intern at the Kosovar Center for Security Studies (KCSS) in Pristine, Kosovo. She regularly partici-

Paris, E. (2014, July 14). A conflict over 'Mother Russia' Retrieved March 6, 2015, from Poli , E., Rosselli, C (2015, February 16). The EU and EEU: Hid-

pates in EU security events and publishes articles on

den Opportunities for Inter-Regional Cooperation? Retrieved March 9,

Eurasian and Central Asian security issues.

2015, from

Bibliography Al Jazeera (2014, September 20). Timeline: Ukraine's political crisis. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from news/europe/2014/03/timeline-ukraine-political-crisis201431143722854652.html BBC (2011, November 18). Russia sees union with Belarus and Kazakhstan by 2015. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http:// BBC (2014, July 30). Ukraine conflict: US and EU widen sanctions on Russia. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http:// BBC (2014, March 17). Ukraine crisis: EU and US impose sanctions over Crimea. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from http:// Clement-Noguier, S. (2005). Russia, the European Union and NATO after September 11: Challenges and limits of a new entanglement. In Russia's engagement with the west: Transformation and integration in the twenty-first century (p. 238). Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe. Dragneva, R., Wolczuk, K. (2012, August). Russia, the Eurasian Customs Union and the EU: Cooperation, Stagnation or Rivalry? Retrieved March 5, 2015, from

lng=en&id=188069 President of Russia (2014, May 29). Treaty on Eurasian Economic Union signed. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from news/22399 Smith, M. (2006). The new millennium - September 11, Iraq, and the NATO-Russia council. In Russia and NATO since 1991 from Cold War through cold peace to partnership? New York, New York: Routledge. The Economist (2013, November 22). Politics of brutal pressure. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from easternapproaches/2013/11/ukraine-and-eu-0 Treanor, J. (2014, December 29). Russian recession fears as economy shrinks for first time in five years. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from Trenin, D. (2010). Russian Foreign Policy: Modernization or Marginalization. In Russia after the global economic crisis (p. 188). Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics :. Trenin, D. (2006, July/August). Russia Leaves the West: The end of the love affair. Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http:// RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty (2014, December 23) Kyrgyzstan

sites/files/chathamhouse/public/Research/Russia and Eura-

Signs EEU Deal As Divisions Emerge In New Alliance. Retrieved March


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problems-cannot-be-addressed-by-technocratic-measures_2490.html Gardner, H. (2013). The Failure to Reach US-Soviet, US-Russian

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Gower, J., Timmins, G. (2010). Introduction: The European

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Herpen, M. (2013). What is Fascism. In Putinism the slow rise of a Atlantic Voices, Volume 5, Issue 3

intensify-russia-s-freefall-into-economic-crisis 15

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Atlantic Voices Vol. 5, No. 03 (March 2015)  

The Growing Gap Between Russia And The West

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