Europe // Analysis

12 december 2014

Cooperative Greater Europe at Risk: What Do We Lose and What Could Be Done?

Ivan Timofeev PhD in Political Science, Director of Programs at Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Head of "Contemporary State" program at Valdai Discussion Club.

For over 20 years the idea of building a Greater Europe has been a significant landmark along the way to cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic region. However, building a Greater Europe faces at least three fundamental problems:

1. How best to resolve the “security dilemma” between Russia and NATO, as well as that between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic community as a whole? How to build a common security space? The answers to these questions require solving a whole bunch of problems, including the enlargement of NATO, ways to settle local conflicts, control over nuclear and conventional weapons, the missile defense issue and many others.

2. What should be done to align the economic potential of the EU, Russia, and the post-Soviet states? How best to achieve a mutually interdependent economy in Greater Europe? How to create a common humanitarian space with the participation of Russia and other post-Soviet states?

3. How to reconcile Russia’s strategic interests in the post-communist space with EU and NATO enlargement plans as well as the sovereign choices of certain post-communist states?

The end of the Cold War brought down the curtain on bloc confrontation. But it did not guarantee the solution of the above problems. Moreover, the collapse of the Soviet Union has seriously exacerbated them. For twenty years we have seen a consistent narrowing of the window of opportunity to address these issues. The narrowness of this window became apparent by the late 2000s, even before the Ukrainian crisis; and Russia's relations with NATO and the EU face stagnation or reversal. Success stories have been few and far between, and their cumulative effect could not deliver a qualitative breakthrough.

Virtually no problem issues in the security sphere have been resolved. NATO’s consistent enlargement ignores Russia's concerns (at least as it is viewed by Moscow). Initiatives in the field of conventional arms control have reached deadlock. Local conflicts are not settled by joint effort – at best, they remain frozen. The strategic stability system is becoming degraded (missile defense, prompt global strike initiatives et al.). Nuclear deterrence remains the key guarantor of security (at least, for Russia). Post-Soviet states have become an arena of competition, rather than cooperation.

The situation in the economic and humanitarian spheres is better, but progress in this area has also largely been exhausted. Energy cooperation is politicized (i.e. 3rd Energy Package, transit routes). Economic and humanitarian integration achieved certain results, but failed to deliver (due to EU enlargement, the problem of variable-speed European integration, and asymmetrical economic cooperation).

Nor has the fundamental issue of harmonizing post-Soviet states’ integration plans been resolved. The post-Soviet space has become an arena of cutting the cords that bind along new dividing lines. In most cases, it has involved a choice between nominal Western and nominal Russian projects. Institutions and formats that could harmonize these processes have failed to materialize. The principle of new states’ sovereignty, which is undoubtedly correct from a formal standpoint, has de facto ignored the great number of obvious and hidden problems in post-Soviet states, including economic development, good governance, ethnic divisions, and open and latent conflicts. Formal sovereignty came under heavy pressure from internal problems and increased competition from major players.

All these problems had emerged before early 2014. However, the situation in Ukraine has led to their dramatic and cumulative aggravation – for the first time in 25 years. A local crisis, in one country, has shattered the whole system of relations between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic community.

What Do We Lose?

The tragedy in this is that even a theoretical possibility of solving many problem issues is being quickly and irreversibly extinguished. There is a rapid radicalization of relations, which afflicts even those areas where cooperation has been successful. A year ago the window of opportunity was narrow, but at least it was open. Now it is closed indefinitely. Some of the problems and missed opportunities are as follows.

In the field of security

1. Cooperation in reducing the risks of a nuclear conflict. In the short and medium terms reducing nuclear deterrence, information transparency, confidence-building measures are unlikely to see any development. In the worst-case scenario, a number of basic agreements will be reduced to nothing (the INF Treaty, etc.).

2. Dialogue on missile defense. Worsening relations with Russia could trigger the deployment of missile defenses in Europe as well as Russia’s response to neutralize the potential threat to its nuclear forces. If earlier the parties managed to find a compromise, now the situation may result in an arms race, and the absence of any interaction.

3. Dialogue between Russia and NATO. Institutional mechanisms are phased out. The NATO-Russia Council invited many questions and roused censure. But it left open the possibility to exchange views and coordinate positions. This platform is now frozen indefinitely.

4. Dialogue on Conventional Forces in Europe. This is mired in deadlock. In the foreseeable future, we are likely to witness a conventional arms race and local manifestations in the form of military aid from Russia and the West to the relevant parties to the conflict in Ukraine.

5. The issue of global strike conventional forces is also likely to go beyond discussion. It will now be considered as a mechanism to contain Russia via the prospect of retaliation.

6. Interaction on cyber-security issues. The digital environment is transformed into a field of bitter rivalry. Regulation initiatives, in the current situation, are unlikely to see any development.

7. Cooperation in space. We are likely to witness a new wave of militarization and scaling down of multilateral cooperation. There is the possibility of reviving satellite interception programs and other programs involving the militarization of near-earth orbit.

8. Local booms in the arms race. These booms are likely to take place in the Black Sea and Baltic regions. They will be determined by the dynamics of the Ukrainian crisis in the Black Sea region, and the mutual aggravation of the situation by Baltic NATO member states and Russia in the Baltic region.

9. “Defrosting” and aggravating local conflicts. Prospects for the multilateral settlement of the conflict in Ukraine are becoming more remote. A new round of hostilities is quite likely. The Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistrian conflicts could escalate along with the Ukrainian one.

10. Cooperation in solving non-regional problems. The likelihood of successful multilateral action to address common problems and counter common threats, as with interaction on Afghanistan, the Syrian chemical weapons issue and others, is reduced.

In the field of economic and humanitarian cooperation

REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
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1. The sanctions regime undermines the economic interdependence of Russia, the EU and other countries in the region. Sanctions will curtail interaction or substantially increase transaction costs.

2. Europe’s energy security is undermined. Transit routes through Ukraine will become an object of constant political manipulations. Resistance to the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline will increase instability. Russia will gradually lose the European gas market.

3. Russia will lose access to a large amount of European technologies and investments, thereby losing one growth source. The European Union and other countries in the region face losing markets and a key impetus for their industrial growth, and a reduction in their export potential.

4. The process of harmonizing Russian and European standards in various fields, albeit very uneven in the past, may be at risk of a slowdown.

5. The issue of liberalizing the visa regime between Russia and the EU will, at best, be frozen. At worst, both sides will impose travel restrictions. This will deal a blow to close social and human relations that create the living fabric of the future Greater Europe. Reducing travel and exchanges will only exacerbate mutual stereotypes and hostility. Liberalizing the visa regime for Ukrainians will aggravate the situation, widen the gap, intensify polarization and deepen dividing lines.

6. Educational and scientific cooperation can also be affected by political conflicts and economic sanctions. At the very least, we should expect a decrease in funding for multilateral programs and projects by the EU and individual European countries on the one hand and Russia on the other hand.

7. The ability to exert joint control over migration flows will also be badly hit. The Ukrainian crisis engenders the problem of refugees and illegal migration, hitting both sides. The lack of cooperation in this sphere will increase the price of, finally, resolving this problem.

8. Interregional cooperation is likely to suffer, affecting the feasibility of the “Europe of Regions” concept. Interregional relations may well suffer from the sharp deterioration in the political situation. Sanctions imposed by both sides are a key negative factor.

9. In terms of European identity, Russia is regaining the status of a “significant other” (“Russia is not Europe”). A similar process will gain momentum in the Russian political identity. This gap will be maintained by the media, the education systems and other institutions, making the split long-term.

10. Divergence in the economic trajectories of Russia, the EU and other European countries is unlikely to strengthen their global competitiveness. This is particularly relevant for Russia whose economy is not sufficiently diversified. But it is also important for a stagnating EU that is losing the Russian market.

In the field of interaction in the post-Soviet space

1. Rivalry in the post-Soviet space is fraught with the risk of incurring expenses in most countries, and particularly Ukraine. The consistent severance of ties with the Russian market deprives Ukraine of an important source of growth. Russia also pays a price, as it is forced to spend resources to substitute Ukrainian imports. The European Union will probably have to pay an even greater price to protect Ukraine from financial and economic collapse. Severing economic ties with Russia deprives other countries in the post-Soviet space of sources of growth.

2. Russia, the EU, the US, and other actors are unlikely to help the post-Soviet countries in resolving existing conflicts and contradictions single-handedly. Such unilateral efforts are sure to be opposed by one of the parties, and this is particularly true for the conflict in Ukraine.

3. The dividing lines in the post-Soviet space, restricting, in particular, freedom of movement, will damage labor and educational migration. This will lead to economic losses and the general degradation of human resources in the post-Soviet states.

4. Instability in the post-Soviet space will prevent the formation of full-fledged sovereign states. By “sovereignty” here we understand the ability to pursue an independent political course, to govern one’s own territory efficiently, and to be self-supporting. Ukraine again offers an illustrative example. After the collapse of the Soviet Union that country had a unique development opportunity. The country was large and developed enough to play its own economic and political role and had no cumbersomeness and diversity of problems that Russia faced. This unique opportunity was missed.

5. The interaction between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Community loses many of its prospects if the political differences between Russia and the European Union continue to gain momentum.

What Could Be Done?

The further deepening of the dividing lines is sure to inflict serious damage on all interested parties. The European Union, Russia and post-Soviet states are bound to suffer, as are other regional actors such as Turkey. Despite increasing political tension, we should revive the idea of building Greater Europe.

At the moment the idea of a Greater Europe may seem utopian for many. However, without values and ideological guidelines, any rational pragmatism and realism will hang suspended. Without such guidelines, any pragmatic activity carried out by a country resembles “rats in the garbage” – i.e. the shortsighted use of available opportunities without any long-term thinking.

In contrast, the presence of a common unifying idea makes pragmatism meaningful and focused on attaining common long-term goals.

What exactly can be done to realize the idea of a Greater Europe and avoid taking situation-based, chaotic and hostile steps? The minimum required steps are as follows:

In the field of security

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1. Refrain from provoking actions in the military sphere, namely the build-up of military forces, dangerous approaches by military aircraft, warships, etc. Carry out military exercises and maneuvers in contact zones between Russian and NATO forces in a mutually predictable way.

2. Spare no effort in achieving a cease-fire in Ukraine, promoting negotiations between the conflicting parties and reaching a long-term solution to the conflict by re-shaping the country’s territorial structure, or by other means acceptable to the parties to the conflict.

3. Establish a mechanism of regular multilateral consultations (contact group) on the crisis in Europe.

4. Put the issue of the Treaty on European Security, as well as the reform of the OSCE back on the agenda.

5. Resume the work of the NATO-Russia Council and in addition to Ukraine use it as a discussion forum to address issues of common threats and challenges.

In the field of economic and humanitarian cooperation

1. Develop and launch a joint program of humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian regions in need of it (possibly, under the auspices of the OSCE).

2. Develop and launch a mechanism for joint action on economic aid to Ukraine, addressing the consequences of the current financial and economic crisis.

3. Vigorously oppose mutual visa discrimination, and the extension of political controversies to cooperation in education, science and other areas of cultural interaction.

4. Prepare at expert level a draft new basic agreement between Russia and the EU, despite the existing political tensions.

5. Launch systemic discussion of “controversial issues” in relations between Russia, the EU and certain European states at the level of universities and research centers.

In the field of interaction in the post-Soviet space

1. Launch a dialogue on multilateral security guarantees for post-Soviet states.

2. Put on the agenda the issue of multilateral rapid response mechanisms to crises in the post-Soviet space.

3. Draw up an inventory of political, economic and humanitarian projects in Russia, the EU and other countries in the post-Soviet space. Determine the points of contact and synchronize them, putting some of these projects in a multilateral mode whenever possible.

In practical terms, it seems necessary to run a detailed study of these and other proposals by ELN, PISM, RIAC and USAK experts.

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Ivan Timofeev, “Cooperative Greater Europe at Risk: What Do We Lose and What Could Be Done?,” Russian International Affairs Council, 12 December 2014,

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