Multipolar World // Analysis

16 september 2015

The Sunset of Greater Europe

Igor Ivanov President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004)
REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Speech at the 20th Annual International Conference of the Baltic Forum “The US, the EU and Russia – the New Reality”, 12 September 2015, Riga, Latvia.

1. People of my generation have for decades dreamt of a united and indivisible Greater Europe. Of course, there have always been sceptics who thought this an impossible dream. Yet the tone was set by romantics who believed in their star. The dream of a Greater Europe began to acquire tangible features in the mid-1970s with the signing of the Helsinki Final Act: the dialogue between opposing military-political groups became more active, arms control talks began to yield real fruit and people-to-people contacts were expanding. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and declaration of the end of the Cold War, many, including myself, decided that nothing could get in the way of a Greater Europe being created. Russia, in spite of its internal turmoil in the 1990s, started pursuing an active policy of rapprochement with the rest of Europe. Documents were signed on cooperation with the European Union and NATO and Russia joined the Council of Europe. In the early 21st century, the outlines of a Greater Europe were emerging from Vladivostok to Lisbon.

2. At a certain point, it might have seemed that Greater Europe was only a few steps away. Agreement was reached on the four common spaces within which it was to be created and road maps had been prepared that we were all expected to follow. Trade and economic relations were burgeoning; joint projects in education and science, culture and development of civil society were under way. All this happened very recently, just yesterday by the measure of history. Yet it seems a long time ago.

3. Greater Europe did not, in the end, happen. The once-in-a-century chance was missed and it is unlikely that another such chance will present itself to the current generation of politicians, in both East and West. In my opinion, nothing could be worse than to continue to persuade ourselves that not everything is lost, that the problems will somehow go away and European politics will get back on track along which it was rolling for the past quarter century. Alas, the window of opportunity, which we never managed to use, has closed.

4. The Ukrainian crisis has highlighted the fact that the political elites in Russia and Europe are not willing to meet each other halfway and build a common destiny in the 21st century world. The hopes that economic interdependence might force the two sides to show political flexibility, dampen the crisis and stimulate the search for compromise have been shattered by the reality of sanctions and counter-sanctions. The numerous institutions called upon to anticipate, prevent and settle crises in Europe have proved totally unfit for purpose when most needed. Two decades of intensive scientific, cultural, educational and humanitarian contacts failed to prevent an unprecedented flare-up of mutual hostility and mistrust, and revival of the most backward stereotypes and myths of Cold War times.

5. All this has been much talked and written about both in Russia and the West. I think it is important to pursue this argument to its logical conclusion and honestly admit that the paths of Europe and Russia are seriously diverging and will remain so for a long time: not for months or even years, but probably for decades to come. This continental shift, the drifting apart of the two European geopolitical plates, will have a huge and lasting impact on both Europe and the world. There will be no return to the autumn of 2013, even if the situation in Ukraine is – by some miracle – brought back to normal. The changes taking place before our eyes are not only radical but irreversible, putting an end to some political projects and opening up opportunities for others.

6. The new geopolitical rift is gaining added significance from the fact that both halves of our continent now have to take fundamental decisions concerning their internal development. The European Union today faces perhaps the most serious challenges in its history. In addition to Ukraine, these include prolonged economic stagnation, a sharp crisis of the euro zone, mounting migration problems, the threat of separatism, signs of a confrontation between the North and South of the European Union and much, much else. Russia, too, is looking at difficult days ahead when it will have to find fundamentally new sources of economic growth and a new place for itself in the global economy in the 21st century. Under these circumstances, Russia and Europe see each other more as a problem than a part of a solution to many other problems. Let us face it: the situation does not augur well for revival of the Greater Europe project.

7. Against this background, the familiar concept of the Euro-Atlantic space takes on a new meaning. Until recently, it implied that it should stretch, in all its dimensions, at least to the Urals (as sealed in the CFE), and possibly to Vladivostok, whereas the situation has now changed radically. Today, when we speak about the Euro-Atlantic space, we mean Western Europe and the USA. This applies not only to the security sphere, as represented by NATO, but increasingly to the economy (Trans-Atlantic integration projects, plans to deliver American gas to Europe, etc.). So we can say that, in the modern world, the Euro-Atlantic space includes the Western states located in Europe and North America.

8. On the other hand, Eurasian integration and cooperation are gathering momentum. I am referring to the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the New Silk Road project. It has become fashionable to say that Greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok is being replaced by Greater Eurasia from Shanghai to Minsk. Although the outlines of Greater Eurasia are still vague and, in many ways, unclear, one cannot fail to see the objective and long-term nature of the processes involved in emergence of a new transnational economic and political structure. Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia are evolving into new centres of global attraction and the relations between them are emerging as the main axis of future world politics.

9. This trend, which was evident long before the Ukrainian crisis but has dramatically gained speed during it, needs studying. The key question is how the relations between the resurgent Euro-Atlantic and the emerging Eurasia will shape up. Can a new bipolarity and a repeat of the history of the last century be avoided? In my opinion, the bipolarity trend is an alarming and dangerous one. If it becomes irreversible, the negative consequences of a new cleavage in the world will, indeed, be long-term and global. It is in our common interests to prevent “a new bipolarity” while it is still possible. That, in turn, means that we should try to preserve the few bridges that still link us and that, in our shared pugnacity, we have not yet burned.

10. I am referring to the mechanisms of the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the sub-regional organisations (from the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation to the Arctic Council) and even the NATO-Russia Council. No excessive hopes can be pinned on any of these structures and organisations: they have not and will not prevent a continental rift between the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia. But they could prevent this rift from assuming a tough, confrontational and dangerous form.

The task we are facing is to lay down rules of the game between the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia that would minimise the risks of uncontrolled confrontation, create opportunities for dialogue and cooperation in tackling common problems and making the international system governable again. Without fulfilling this task, we are doomed to a historically prolonged period of bipolarity at its worst.

11. Obviously, in the emerging new geopolitical reality, Russia is no longer the eastern flank of the failed Greater Europe and is becoming the western flank of the emerging Greater Eurasia. The shift of strategic emphasis from west to east is virtually a foregone conclusion, irrespective of the dynamics and outcome of the current crisis. The complexities of the shifting accents should not be underestimated: it is a long-term, painful and very delicate process calling for not only political will but also high professionalism. Otherwise, instead of a strategic reorientation, we might end up in economic and geopolitical isolation.

12. The shift of strategic accents means that Moscow should invest considerable political capital in developing the mechanisms of EEU, SCO and other multilateral structures of Greater Eurasia. This is especially true since many of these mechanisms are being created virtually from scratch and Russian foreign policy has every opportunity to play active and, in some areas, leading role in their formation.

13. This does not mean that Russia should turn its back on Europe, renouncing interaction with its European partners and friends. Far from it. Russia has too many bonds connecting it to Europe: history and geography, culture and religion, decades of economic cooperation and a multi-million Russian diaspora in all European countries from Poland to Spain. Moreover, the success of including Russia in various Eurasian integration projects depends greatly on whether Moscow manages to ensure security and stability on its Western flank and to forge new pragmatic and mutually beneficial relations with its European neighbours.

14. The outlines of future relations between Russia and Europe are only just emerging. Yet it is already clear that these relations should not be hostage to the political rhetoric and romantic expectations of the end of the previous and the beginning of this century. It is necessary to take stock of the existing effective forms of interaction in all four spaces and work steadily in specific areas, without reviving old illusions and generating new ones. For example, Russia and the European Union could concentrate on the sore issue of managing migration. Or on preventing political extremism and terrorism. Or on the subregional mechanisms of cooperation from the Black Sea to the Arctic. Russia and the European Union will remain neighbours and even the fading of the idea of Greater Europe cannot wipe out this reality.

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Igor Ivanov, “The Sunset of Greater Europe,” Russian International Affairs Council, 16 September 2015,

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Date: 17 september 2015

Author: Anonym

The article contains a sense of Russia having been "hard done by" while in reality,nothing is said about its aggressive behaviour towards Europe and certainly Ukraine

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