EU-Russia blog

The European project and Russia : the necessity to identify common geopolitical interests to overcome the current crisis

April 21, 2017

Introduction: the absence of geopolitical reflexion at EU level

The current geopolitical situation is a pivotal moment when the objective of unity in the European project is not working anymore. Liberal and Human rights normative ideologies as the basis of the project are more and more contested by national-realists political parties across Europe. The European utopia is aimed at building peace through unity, but fragmentation forces are stronger as a result of the multipolar tendencies in the World and in Europe.

The new European Union Global Strategy[1] published in spring 2016, has been written to conform itself to EU competencies and policies. A comprehensive threat analysis and sound geopolitical diagnosis of the situation were not included in the document.

The European Union is closer to a civilian and normative power in international relations and fosters its own model of civil and military management and diplomacy. However, the absence of geopolitical reflection inside EU leads to a worsening of its relations with Russia, whose objectives do not match EU ones, and a degradation of its own security, in the context of a Franco-German deadlock after Brexit.

Is it enough for the European Union to adopt the position of "empire of standards", in anticipation of a potentially growing significance of the legal factor[2] in international relations, and in the face of geopolitical doctrines of other political entities? Certainly not!

Questions of territory, geographical priorities and frontiers do not prominently feature in European negotiations, as they are sensitive and generate conflict. Various obstacles to a European geopolitical approach persist:

– territorial blindness resulting from the almost overwhelming importance given to the legal, economic[3] and political aspects of analyses, which makes it difficult to consider questions of territory and sovereignty;

– an asymmetric perception of threats and interests of the EU member states as a function of their geographic position and history;

– a world-view inherited from the Cold War, and a lack of thought and public debate at the politico-strategic level. In order to play a role on the international scene, the EU must reposition itself according to strategic global evolutions.

A better appreciation of geopolitical issues would be useful for the EU in its analysis and comprehension of territorial issues, but also for the development of a power strategy based on the control of territory and subordinated to the objective of a ‘political Europe’[4]. A reformed EU would be better engaged in the global balance of power and obtain the status of an autonomous geopolitical actor.

Without credible power strategy to deliver a "strategic autonomy" proposed in the EU Global Strategy, incantations on international relations rules and human rights are inversely proportional to the collective helplessness of the European Union and its member states to influence the crisis in its geographical proximity in a decisive way. This is the case in Syria, in Libya, in Ukraine but also Islamic terrorism on European territory reinforcing EU internal fragmentation on the question of borders.

We have to examine relations between the European Union and Russia in a more precise way, because they impact not only European continental stability, but represent major geopolitical stakes for the future of the European project.

EU and Russia: two parallel visions

According to the EU Global Strategy, "managing the relationship with Russia represents a key strategic challenge."[5]

The European Union and its member states did not enough anticipate the geopolitical consequences of enlargement. The pursuit of enlargement is today causing the EU to import the geopolitical fault-lines resulting from the historical frontiers which mark the Eurasian continent. This weakens the EU’s coherence and identity and increases the risks of dilution.

Since EU enlargement, the near abroad of Russia is also the near abroad of the European Union. The successive enlargements of NATO also took place in a detrimental way to the security perception of Russians. The Russian government is opposed to the installation of an alliance at its borders, which was hostile to Russia during the Cold war. It is also opposed to the establishment of NATO bases on territories belonging formerly to Russia like Crimea, today annexed to Russia. The westernisation of Russia was also put to an end after the arrival of Vladimir Putin in 2000. Since relations between EU and Russia continuously worsened with the war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The narratives of the conflict in Ukraine are different in Russia or in the EU. The American and EU member state governments considered that the "Euromaïdan" revolution expressed the goal of Ukrainian citizens to orientate themselves towards the Western world for its democratic and liberal values after the president Yanukovich refused to sign the partnership treaty between Ukraine and EU. The Russian government considers that Brzezinskimaïdan[6] was a regime change with the objective to detach Ukraine from Russia and stop Ukraine to become a member of the Eurasian union.

The European Union makes its relations with Russia dependent on legal principles declared on a unilateral basis: "Substantial changes in relations between the EU and Russia are premised upon full respect for international law and the principles underpinning the European security order, including the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter. We will not recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea nor accept the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine." However, the criticism against Russia regarding the so-called "non-respect of international law " has no legitimacy among Russian public opinion since the United Nation system has been challenged by the United States with the Iraq war, and did not respect the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia after the recognition of Kosovo as an independent entity.

Beyond tactical postures and misunderstanding on the crisis developments, the contradictory representations between Russians, Europeans and Americans express different representations of the world.

At the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, John Kerry and Angela Merkel, the most prominent western leaders in favour of sanctions of European Union against Russia claimed that Russia was an actor whose behaviour was a thing of the past.

John Kerry declared on the 3rd of march 2014 that "You just don't in the 21st century behave in 19th-century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text". Angela Merkel also stressed on the 13th of March in a declaration to the government that "the conflict in Georgia in 2008 and today in Ukraine in the middle of Europe is a conflict of zones of influences and territorial claims, as we experienced in the 19th and 20th century " and stressed they were outdated.

The European Union is not ready to consider Russia as an equal partner. From the point of view of EU, Russia should be westernised, that is to be transformed according to the normative vision of the European Union as a "superior moral force " in defending its values. This posture is perceived by Russians as an unacceptable form of "moral imperialism ". The Russian representations are in total contradiction with the ambition of European Union to transform the world according to its image. The European Union has the ambition to export its normative model based on the "interdependence theory". This ideology postulates that commerce brings peace in an automatic way. The perspectives of westernisation of Russia are blocked by the Russian government. The government defends the concept of "sovereign democracy" and position itself in the multipolar world as an autonomous Eurasian pole of power, with a different geopolitical orientation, both European and Asiatic. The Russian government is proposing to negotiate a new European security architecture and to stop enlargement of NATO and EU.

Today, the rival visions between the European Union and Russia are an obstacle to the identification of common interests.

The five principle of EU towards Russia: isolate Russia

The European Union has determined five principles to guide its policy towards Russia (Foreign Affairs Council of the 14th of March 2016):

-Implementation of the Minsk Agreements as the key condition for any substantial change in the EU-s stance towards Russia.

-Strengthened relations with the EU's Eastern partners and other neighbours, in particular in Central Asia.

-Strengthening the resilience of the EU (for example energy security, hybrid threats, or strategic communication).

-Need for selective engagement with Russia on issues of interest to the EU.

-Need to engage in people-to-people contacts and support Russia civil society.

These principles are clearly an attempt to isolate Russia. The Russians oppose to this orientation another principle of Europe :

– Russia is part of the "common European house"

– The future of Europe does not consist in a transformation of Russia according to European Union principles but a transformation of the European project with nations placed on an equal basis.

Regarding the five principles of the EU, the problem is that the Ukrainian government is not implementing the Minsk agreements. In particular, the federalization process of the Ukrainian constitution to give substantial autonomy to Donbass Republics is currently blocked.

Concerning the cooperation between the European Union and the neighbours of Russia (Eastern partnership countries till Central Asia), this policy is not acceptable for Russians as the European Union focuses on its relations with neighbours of Russia in a priority way and not Russia herself.

Finally, the objective of the European Union is to influence Russian civil society. This is a very sensitive point since the Western NGOs are perceived as Trojan horses of a coloured revolution. This suspicion is not unfounded, when we listen to the declarations of Jacek Sayusz-Wolski, former vice-president and currently Member of the European Parliament, during a round table in Brussels a think in 2014[7]. He stressed that it was necessary to engage in a long battle to provoke a "regime change " in Russia, through strategies of influence in civil society with NGOs, and targeting middle classes to westernise Russia.

The dangers of further fragmentation

The absence of geopolitical reflexion in the relations between Russia and the European Union is leading to further fragmentation of the European continent, but also endangers stability and peace on the European continent.

If Russia and EU nations are weakening each other, they will also be weaker towards external and stronger global actors. If these negative developments cannot be marginalised, the relation could further deteriorate to irreversible levels. The option of living side by side, with minimal interaction to accommodate differences, on the other hand, is also an illusion because of strong interdependencies in crucial areas such as energy, commerce and security.

If no acceptable compromise on the future of EU-Russia relations can be found at EU level, we can expect individual EU member states to engage unilateral actions to improve or degrade their bilateral relations with Russia. Improving EU-Russia relations might therefore equally be necessary to contain centrifugal forces within the European project itself. Hopefully, a group of states within the EU could position themselves as a stimulus to improve relations with Russia and break the deadlock. Faced with an enduring crisis, bilateral relations between EU member states and Russia might be used as a leverage to shift the relative geopolitical power rank within EU. This challenge has to be addressed in order to contain the growing multipolarisation within the EU itself.

The impact of Brexit and new Franco-German geopolitical rivalry

Let's focus on France and Germany since the Franco-German relations are the "motor" of the European project since its origins. If the two countries are unable to find common ground, there is no progress for EU. Today, the challenge is to overcome the new geopolitical rivalry between France and Germany since German unification and EU enlargement to the East. The French perception of a shift of the geopolitical centre of gravity towards the East in favour of Germany resulted in compensation measures taken by France regarding enlargement and neighbourhood priorities ( acceleration of EU enlargement towards the Balkans to avoid the reconstitution of a "Mitteleuropa" under German leadership, inclusion of Mediterranean countries in the Eurozone, Mediterranean Union project).

Within an enlarged EU, different geopolitical priorities and security perceptions make it difficult to define EU interests, and therefore predictability.

The Brexit might also be as important as Berlin Wall collapse, but this time leading to regression of EU with a domino effect. The Brexit will have the effect of provoking disagreements within EU, in particular between France and Germany, because their diverging views on the finality of EU were masked by the more Eurosceptical positioning of the UK. The Brexit will have irreversible consequences on the balance of power within the EU. The balancing role of the United Kingdom traditionally used by France in relations with Germany will be diminished after the Brexit. In the French Gaullist doctrine, Russia is a factor of equilibrium in Europe and this role is likely to be reinforced after Brexit. Europe will find itself in a geopolitical situation similar to the period when de Gaulle was president of France: The UK was not part of the European Economic Community and the Cold War context was causing deep European tensions. Today, Brexit is also concomitant of a "new Cold War" context. The situation today will reinforce the shift of balance of power within the EU. It will reinforce the centrality of Germany and this, in turn, will raise France's desire to consider new options to slow down what the French perceive as the emergence of a "German EU", or " a German-American EU", although the election of Donald Trump puts now into question this last option. It will reinforce French politicians, influenced by the Gaullist doctrine, in their convictions to promote a better relation with Russia, in order to re-establish a better geopolitical balance in Europe

Better EU-Russia"Entente", has therefore to be promoted in a way that simultaneously rebuilds trust between France and Germany. Both should agree on a new reset with Russia in a way that France will become less suspicious of a German-Russian or German-American alliances and Germany will be less suspicious of the building of traditional rear alliances to weaken its European dominance at the geopolitical centre of Europe.

How to overcome the crisis?

The reset of EU-Russia relations should not be treated as a subsidiary matter of EU external relations, but rather as a central question concerning the future of the European project. It should be considered as an opportunity to rethink the European project, because the EU paradigms are obsolete, and it is today facing a deep crisis and incremental scepticism from citizens. It is also an occasion to push forward '' strategic autonomy'' as proposed in the new EU global strategy[8]

Both EU and Russia should learn from past mistakes and abandon divisive strategies

To ease EU suspicions, "leadership" of Russia in its "near abroad', should be given priority over the reconstruction by Russia of a "pyramidal power style" regional alliance. It should look more similar to the traditional Franco-German leadership in the EU that need to be restored if the European project wants to have a chance to survive. Russia should also distance herself from plans to rebuild a US-Russia condominium and bypass EU member states in crisis negotiations. The return to a bipolar system in Europe is not sustainable in a context of emerging multipolarity. To get away from this trend, EU member states should also have to be reliable partners and act in a more autonomous way (the Minsk group is the model but not the format of negotiations in Syria).

To ease Russian suspicions, acting as a more autonomous strategic actor (mentioned in the new EU Global Strategy) should be given priority by EU. EU should distance itself from plans to position the European project as a sub-grouping of a "Greater West" led by the USA. EU should avoid interference in Russian internal politics to promote exclusive "Euro-Atlantic" interests. After engaging the Eastern Partnership (EaP) in a forceful way, EU is now paying a triple price: more fragmentation of its geographical proximity in the civil war in Ukraine, fragmentation with Russia, and finally, growing distrust from EU citizens (the negative referendum in the Netherlands regarding the free trade zone EU-Ukraine).

Double standard policies and threats are also counterproductive. The EU is sanctioning Russia for the annexation of Crimea to defend Ukraine, a non-EU member state, but the EU is not sanctioning Turkey although they are occupying the territory of Cyprus, an EU member state. Instead, the EU is giving Turkey rewards such as negotiations on EU membership, visa liberalisation and access to EU single market. Russia should reciprocally avoid treating the EU Member States in different ways.

EU and Russia should also avoid lecturing each other on international law since it is a matter of various interpretations and changes, which depend on the shifts in the balance of power. UN "right of people to determine themselves" was advocated by the EU for the German unification, the Czech and Slovak independence and Yugoslavia break up. This legal doctrine was also advocated by Russia in the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In the case of Crimea today, on the other hand, EU is defending the UN "territorial integrity" principle whilst Russia, on the contrary, defends the "right of people to determine themselves".

Both EU and Russia are respectively used as scapegoats for their past failures in opportunistic ways in order to revive old failed geopolitical projects. Some European Federalist militants see Russia as a perfect adversary to revive the failed "fusion of nations" doctrine at a time of growing Euroscepticism. This attitude risks to trigger political forces in Russia, which consider no other alternative but to make the European project fail as a retaliation[9]. As far as the "information war" is concerned, worrying tendencies to neo-Macchartyist attitudes in public and political debates exist on both sides, and diverging opinions are less and less tolerated. This should be avoided, especially in the dialogues between experts and academics.

Concerning the migrations crisis, the help of Russia in EU neighbourhood is, therefore, crucial to stabilise ongoing conflicts and stop migration flows. Countries determined to protect European civilisation need an alliance with Russia to rehabilitate the notion of the border, territorial control, and sovereignty. This is necessary to contain future conflict of civilisations on European territory.

The election of Donald Trump also forces the Europeans to think by themselves. Whatever the scenario, a return to the status quo, or a radical overhaul of American geopolitical positioning, European nations need to elaborate their own common geopolitical interests in an autonomous way. If a reset takes place between Russia and the United States, Europeans need to do the same to avoid isolation. If relations between Russia and USA deteriorate further, Europeans need a reset to avoid further fragmentation of the Eurasian continent.

Identification of common interests is necessary

EU and Russia need also to identify common geopolitical interests in order to engage in a strategic dialogue. They could address three pivotal thematics at global, pan-European and regional levels: the continental axis, the missing link of European security and the common neighbourhood.

The European project needs first to be adapted according to the changing geopolitical environment. After the Brexit and its consequences, the EU should focus more on "Realpolitik" principles since it will be less and less in a position to impose its paradigm based on the "interdependence theory" and the exportation of its own norms. The European project should rather be understood as a wide European security architecture, such as the "Westphalian peace" or "Congress of Vienna".

To transform itself into a serious political player in a rapidly changing world, a reformed European project needs to embrace the "Europe of nations" model and devise a geopolitical strategy based on its territorial interests. This means for this alliance of nations, defining its boundaries, geographical priorities and alliances, promoting its civilizational characteristics, both organic and ideological (values), that will prevail within these boundaries, to have more weight in the world order.

"Political Europe" should remain European project's aim. We could define it as an alliance of European states and nations, seeking to acquire autonomy of thought, decision and action at international level in order to ensure their security, defend their strategic and vital interests and promote conditions for the flourishing of their common civilisation. It does not, therefore, tend towards the "fusion" of the member states and remains a collective tool.

The transformation of this alliance of nations into a more autonomous geopolitical actor involves its insertion into the system of world balance of power. Its vision must correspond to its geographical extent and be clearly identifiable by other geopolitical centres. This necessity for more autonomy is recognised in the new EU Global Strategy. The European project could also be revived as a more "political" project of continental scale in two directions:

A geopolitical strategy should follow from EU’s geographical characteristics.

1- First, a better geopolitical balance and fixing the borders:

According to its geographical position, the EU should maintain a geopolitical balance between the Euro-Atlantic, the Eurasian, the Euro-Mediterranean and African and the Euro-Arctic geopolitical spaces. This means, that it is necessary for the EU to have more balance between USA and Russia. In a similar way, Russia also has to balance its own relations according to its different geography between Eurasian-European and Atlantic, Eurasian-Arctic, Eurasian-Eastern Asian, and Eurasian-Mediterranean and African spaces.

Membership of the Atlantic Alliance has so far filled the role of "anteroom" to the EU. The freezing of the Atlantic Alliance’s enlargement would also enable EU’s own project there to be halted. A renunciation of enlargement of the EU and the Atlantic Alliance into Russia’s ‘near abroad’ is the way to increase regional stability and improve relations with Russia. It is in the Union’s interest to reduce Russia’s perception of encirclement. A buffer zone including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova gradually transitioning into a region of cooperation between Russia and the EU is a more realistic option. It would ease suspicion and dissolve Russia’s priority to break its encirclement by the Atlantic Alliance, to prevent further EU enlargement, which in turn would contribute to the clarification of borders of the Russian federation.

Fixing EU borders is also a condition to strengthen EU identity in the eyes of external entities. It would enable a clearer identification of its foreign policy interests, preserve its cohesion and attract more support of European citizens in the context of "enlargement fatigue". European citizens cannot identify themselves with the EU as long as EU borders are unclear. With stable frontiers, the EU would put an end to its dilution after successive enlargements. Leaving aside the Balkans, the negotiation of political alternatives to the prospect of enlargement is the best solution.

2- The promotion of a pan-European civilisational model

If both EU and Russia approach the today highly divisive question of values, the focus should be on what they have in common. Theirs have in common the European civilisation and its culture. This common heritage should be promoted, at a time of the clear emergence of a violent political Islam, carrying rival representations. European nations including Russia have also a clear common interest to contain and fight radical Islam on external theatres (Middle East, South West Asia and Africa) and internal theatres (terrorism, Islamist proselytism).

The continental axis

Schematic scenarios on a map can help to focus on the main geopolitical options. The following map (See map 1: "Continental axis for a better European, Eurasian, and global balance of power) illustrates two scenarios for EU member states and Russia:

The trend scenario of a "Greater West", is part of a "Unipolar world" model led by the United States. The emergence of a continental axis for a better European, Eurasian, and global balance of power is an alternative better suited to European interests, especially since the new American presidency. This continental axis could be the inner circle of a security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok. This bigger circle could make sense if we define the Western world differently. The Western world as a "geopolitical representation" gains in importance in today’s geopolitical situation. The definition of the "West " needs a larger interpretation than the one used during the Cold War. In today’s geopolitical situation, it is time to recognise that the Greater Western World consists of three pillars: USA, EU, and the Russian world, although the "Eurasianist" dimension of Russia will also stay an important feature of the Russian internal geopolitical debate. A more inclusive approach would foster dialogue instead of exclusion. It would provide more support to Russians aiming at belonging to the "Greater West", and ease dialogue with "Eurasianists", allowing to focus on common civilisational features.

Map 1 : Continental axis, for a better European, Eurasian, and global balance of power

Although reality will always be more disorganised and precarious, it is useful to focus on schematic scenarios when focusing on the main geopolitical options. This map illustrates two big options for EU member states:

Unipolar World

Until Obama presidency, the trend scenario was the progressive integration of the EU into the "Greater Western World" in line with a "Unipolar vision". This scenario is a steady slide towards an exclusive alignment of EU defence and security interests with NATO, as well as a Transatlantic market absorbing the single European market leading to a centre-periphery relationship with the United States. The election of Donald Trump is making this scenario (temporarily?) unlikely as the new American approach is more acceptance of multipolarity, more unilateral decisions, more protectionist policies blocking Transatlantic market negotiations. We cannot exclude the emergence of a transatlantic crisis because of growing distrust between European governments and the new American government.

Multipolar World

EU and Russia agree to build a European project of continental scale ("Lisbon to Vladivostok" within a "Security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok"). The negotiation of a new Eurasian security architecture (as part of the vision from "Lisbon to Vladivostok") preserving Russia’s security interests would facilitate the stabilisation of EU’s continental hinterland. It would also be an opportunity for EU to become a centre of equilibrium alongside Russia as a useful counter-weight to other global powers. It is a necessary step to create a better balance within the Atlantic Alliance in order to focus on European interests and build a "security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok"

This option would offer:

– better balance within EU member states,

– better balance for EU between Euro-Atlantic(USA) and Euro-Asiatic(Russia) spaces

– a focus on the doctrine of "Balance of Power" instead of "Westernisation doctrine"

Map 1: Continental axis, for a better European, Eurasian, and global balance of power

The missing link of European security

Regarding Transatlantic relations, the "EU/NATO complementarity" narrative in the EU global strategy is an obstacle to more trust because Russia sees each EU movement as an anticipation of a NATO expansion (Eastern Partnership and "Sikorski doctrine"). EU has to recognise that it can have interests that are different from those of the USA, and thus act in a more autonomous way.

The EU can neither represent the whole of Europe in an exclusive way nor can it extend itself to the Eurasian continent. It would be therefore interesting to imagine a new netting of treaties and institutions, resembling the "Olympic circles", which would allow maintaining stability on the whole Eurasian continent.

There is a common interest in fixing the "missing link" of European security with the negotiation of new security and economic arrangements between EU and Russia at the Pan-European level on an equal basis. OSCE is important but specific institutional arrangements might be necessary (see Map 5 "the Olympic circles of Euro-Atlantic, European and Eurasian security – the missing link of European security).

Map 2: "Olympic circles" of Euro-Atlantic, European and Eurasian security to fix the missing link of European security.

This map illustrates the need for a new European security treaty, in the context of an emerging global and European multipolarity.

There is a missing link in the European security architecture that needs to be fixed in order to avoid a further fragmentation of the European continent between Euro-Atlantic and Euro-Asian alliances. We also have to assume that an enlargement of Euro-Atlantic institutions (NATO-EU-OSCE) to the whole of the Eurasian continent is impossible. Firstly, EU and NATO Member states disagree on further enlargement. Secondly, it would be impossible for these Euro-Atlantic institutions to manage the geopolitical diversity of the Eurasian continent. The solution to fixing the missing link in the European security architecture is based on the "geographical tightening" principle in the context of NATO’s and EU’s overstretched capacities. Geographical proximity would be a central criterion to build regional alliances in order to foster stability and prevent further Eurasian fragmentation.

A new "security space" from Lisbon to Vladivostok would be the inner circle of the security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok. In this configuration, we would find the EU as a pivot/political centre and Russia as a neighbouring pivot/political centre at the crossroad of overlapping security spaces from Vancouver to Vladivostok (NATO and OSCE, USA-EU-Russia), Lisbon to Vladivostok (UE-Russia), St Petersburg to Peking (OCS) and Minsk-Dushanbe (OTSC). Stabilisation policies and "non-aggression agreements would need to be negotiated between these geopolitical spaces. This netting of institutions resembles "Olympic circles". The described configuration would be adapted to the emerging multipolar world to maintain a balance between the different states, alliances and political and security institutions. This architecture is aimed at promoting synergies between interleaved organisations like NATO, EU, OSCE, OCS, OTSC and should lead to more stability.

Map 2: "Olympic circles" of Euro-Atlantic, European and Eurasian security to fix the missing link of European security.

The common neighbourhood

Pan-European level and Mediterranean/Middle East neighbourhood

EU and Russia (with Central Asian States and China) have a common interest in containing Islamist terrorism and instability originating from the southern arc of the crisis (from North Africa to South East Asia). These threats are endangering the security of the whole Eurasian continent because EU, Russia and Central Asia are increasingly targets of acts of terrorism.

EU and Russia also need to overcome the Ukrainian crisis in order to focus on Islamist terrorism as a priority threat. The successful implementation of Minsk II Agreements requires more pressure on the Ukrainian government because they are blocking the federalisation process. Ukraine should adopt neutrality status and act as a bridge of cooperation instead of acting as a frontline between the "West" and against Russia (No NATO, no EU); (Map 3, "European Union squeezed between two arcs of crisis").

Map 3: The European Union squeezed between two arcs of crisis

The spatial analysis provides an added value in helping to understand the geopolitical processes at work and the security perceptions.

The European Union Member States are increasingly squeezed between two arcs of the crisis on their southern and eastern range. It is in their security’s interest to overcome this situation of encirclement. In order to understand the current geopolitical situation, the southern and eastern geopolitical theatres cannot be separated. The two arcs of crisis overlap in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East around the Black Sea, turning into the new pivot of geopolitical tensions in the world.

The support of Western countries during the Arab revolutions (southern arc of crisis) aggravated the domino effect and destabilisations along this arc of crisis. It reinforced Russia's, Central Asia states' and China's perception, that these actions will destabilise their strategic zones of interests in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East (overlapping zone).

This geopolitical dynamic is a factor that explains why Syria is a red line. Avoiding entering Russia's priority zone of interest will prevent further chaos.

In the eastern arc of crisis, NATO extension support by Western countries, and EU-Eastern Partnership (EaP) collide with the revival of Russia as an autonomous geopolitical actor, trying to prevent the destabilisation of the Russian world and leading to strongly diverging views on Ukraine. The dynamics along the two different arcs of crisis collide in a zone that spreads from Mediterranean eastern shores to Central Asia. The more Western countries support regime changes, the more Russia will react to the perceived threat of destabilisation which, in turn, will provoke neighbouring countries to perceive Russia as a new security threat as well, leading to a more politically fragmented Eurasian continent.

The challenge for both EU and Russia is to stop these dynamics of rising rivalry and to identify common interests.

The Eurasian continent is facing mutual threats from the southern arc of crisis with the destabilising actions of jihadist forces. Europeans, however, lose their time on the Ukraine crisis. The threat of escalation in this area also depends on the actions of EU member states themselves. Historical experience and wise strategic thinking suggest they should not cross their neighbours' red lines (like in the Ukraine). Since it is not in the interest of EU member states to have more fragmented geopolitical space on the eastern flank, Eurasian nations, EU member states, Eastern European states, Russia, Central Asian States, and possibly also China should cooperate to a greater extent in order to face common threats originating from the southern arc of crisis.

Map 3: The European Union squeezed between two arcs of crisis


To rescue the European project, a reset of relations Between the EU and Russia is an opportunity to engage a radical overhaul of the European Union whose paradigms are outdated.

EU-Russia relations cannot be separated from global geopolitical trends. A more common diagnosis of the world evolution is required, in order to guide political decisions of both partners, to overcome their differences, identify common interests, and adopt common strategies. Today, the danger lies in the spreading of a spiralling crisis under the "sleepwalker" syndrome[10], leading to confrontation caused by the absence of geopolitical knowledge.

We have to acknowledge that the ideological approach of "Westernisation" of Russia is not acceptable. It is also an illusion to think that EU and Russia will be able to resolve their different disputes, using a "one by one" crisis approach on a "sectoral basis". Linkages in negotiations, according to the Kissinger doctrine, cannot be applied that way.

Russia serves as a useful counterweight for other European nations in the context of the need to a better balance of power at global scale. Russia also constitutes the energetic and commercial hinterland of the EU. The possibility of a strategic partnership between the reformed European Union and Russia should, therefore, be preserved.

The short term objective of improving EU-Russia relations implies offering each other an acceptable place in their respective projects: Russia should be given a role in the European project, and the European project should be given a role in the Russian vision. Only then, the different ongoing crises might have a chance to be resolved in a more global deal.

Despite current obstacles and ongoing crises, long-term thinking is necessary, because world trends indicate a shift to more precarious international situations. The emerging multicentred world should be the main impetus. If we want a cooperation paradigm to prevail, the central question is the following: can we, in the long term, envision a "Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok" combined with a "Security space from Vancouver to Vladivostok"? The German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently reminded Europeans about the option of an "Economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok" after full implementation of Minsk Agreements[11]. The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on the other hand, previously suggested, in June 2008, a "new European security architecture". It is now a question of political will.

[1] />[2] International rules are understood as a legal dogma when in reality it is only a question of changing interpretation through time and space according to the current balance of power[3] The doctrine of economic interdependence can lead to geopolitical blindness as in the case of Ukraine where free trade zone negotiations led to a geopolitical crisis[4] EU is not a nation but an alliance of nations, when Russia is a nation: there is a necessity for more clarification on the finalities of the European project between member states [5] />[6] Expression making reference to the doctrine of the American political scientist, Zbigniew Brzezinski, suggesting in the 90's to detach Ukraine from Russia[7] Conference : Building a lifeline for freedom : Eastern partnership 2.0, Wilfried Martens center for European Studies, Brussels, 7 October 2014.[8] "Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe , A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign And Security Policy", June 2018 [9] This scenario was already partially identified in the Forward Studies Unit of the European Commission in 199[10] "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914", Christopher Clark, Harper, 2012[11]


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