Martin Lukac's Blog

EU, Ukraine and “Red Lines” of Russian Foreign Policy

March 1, 2013

The Eastern Partnership is rather fresh policy of the European Union to structure and improve political and economic relations with six post-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. All of these states are in the closest vicinity of the Russian Federation. What were its reactions in the past and what can we expect in the future?


On 25 February 2013, only few days ago, another EU-Ukraine summit took place in Brussels. Although it did not bring any world-shaking news, it brought two things: Firstly, reaffirmed commitment to sign Association Agreement from both sides and, secondly, it brought impression of advancement in the relationship.

The Bear is Watching

At the inception, Moscow assumed very clear stance towards the Eastern Partnership. Of course it was condemned, because it is without any doubts that success of the Eastern Partnership would bring numeral complications to the Russian Federation. It will at least complicate Russia’s intention to integrate with these countries regionally – and that means a lot for Russia.


There are two events, which piqued curiosity of the international community. Firstly it was Russian intervention to Georgia in August 2008 and so-called gas crisis in January 2009. These two events took place very closely to official announcement of the Eastern Partnership in May 2008 and its official start one year later.


Both events have a very long history and I am surely not suggesting that these events took place “because of” the Eastern Partnership. What I am trying to point out, are international signals that Russia sent by these events to the future. We can call it “red lines” of its assertive foreign policy.


Red Lines Should Not be Crossed

As several scholars suggested by the end of 2009, Russian intervention re-established its “militaristic power paradigm"[1]. Although, I cannot fully agree, because we have not seen neither similar action taking place, nor threats that could be considered critical since then, I must agree with the fact that Russia managed to establish very strong precedent that it would not accept unilaterally proclaimed or militarily enforced independence.


Intervention to Georgia had undeniable implications on Ukraine’s rapprochement with NATO in terms of much more sensible approach to deepening their cooperation. Nevertheless the cooperation between Ukraine and NATO remained quite strong, official and institutional advancement will surely not take place in the near future. On 22 February 2013, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, after the last NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting of Ministers, stated: “For many years, Ukraine has made substantial and very welcome contributions to all major NATO-led operations, including our engagement in Afghanistan.[2] Indeed, Ukraine is widely engaged in NATO activities, but NATO Eastward expansion is very unlikely. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, has expressed Russian attitude to this issue on 49th Munich Security Conference stating that international partners are “inventing new dividing lines[3]. All in all, for Russia it would be very unwelcome step if Ukraine joined NATO.


Energy policies

Not less important red line is cooperation on energy policies. The Russian Federation is the biggest gas supplier to countries of the Eastern Partnership and essential partner of Ukraine regarding oil and nuclear fuel. The struggle in this field is especially for Ukraine, as it is quite crucial country for transit of Russian gas to the Central Europe and a huge trading partner. Ukraine is aware of its dependency on Russian natural resources and has already taken steps to diversify its demand towards Europe. As Joint Statement from the last EU-Ukraine Summit declares, the leaders “noted with satisfaction that since November 2012, Ukraine has been connected to the EU gas market through effective bi-directional gas flows.”[4] As media noted, Ukraine intends “to import up to 8 billion cubic meters of gas a year from central Europe to replace expensive Russian supplies and take advantage of lower prices on the European spot market.[5]


Export of natural resources is a very crucial question for Russia and we may witness a great diplomatic clash in this field. I see energy dimension of this triangular relationship as an element, in which the European Union is still trying how hard it can challenge Russian red lines. The biggest problem for Ukraine is the deal that was cut in 2009 between Ukraine and Russia, which obliges Ukraine to buy certain amount of gas annually. Regardless of how much Russian gas Ukraine consumes, it is bind to pay for the negotiated amount.


Europe is strongly supporting Ukraine in modernizing its Gas Transit System, because it is aware of the same offer coming from the East. Russian Gazprom would very gladly take control over transit pipelines, however this would mean even more dependency on Russia. Negative example for Ukraine is Armenian energy sector, which is almost entirely owned by Russian operators.


Russia has lost some of its ground by Ukraine’s possibility to diversify its gas demand, but that does not imply the end of negotiations. I think that Russia still has some space for compromises, but not under conditions, when Ukraine is wavering back and forth. It should firstly try to demand its rights on behalf of the agreement and hope for a point where Ukraine would not be willing to wait any longer for the Association agreement.


Association Agreement and Russia

A very efficient benchmark would be the progress concerning widely watched legal cases against leaders of the opposition. Although President Yanukovich has expressed “commitment to early implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the recommendation by the Council of Europe[6], it is very improbable due to two reasons: Firstly, high gas prices are echoing in Ukraine and most of the guilt for the actual state is pined on those who are imprisoned. Therefore releasing someone who was until now considered guilty for the whole situation is simply not a plausible scenario. Secondly, if these statements are to be seen from the historical perspective, it is very likely that branches of rule of law, checks and balances and judicial system will remain untouched until the “big” summit in November. Unless these things will change, I would suggest remaining realist about advancement in the EU-Ukraine relations. Thirdly, as we have witnessed in Parliamentary elections, the opposition is clearly missing a leader and simply releasing martyrs of the opposition is in my opinion very unlikely – at least for the sake of domestic stability and effort to prevent extensive protests.


Although Russia believes that the Eastern Partnership would not materialize to the extent of partnership[7], some kind of success in the partnership, based on support of the EU to modernize Ukraine’s Gas Transit System, might take place. What is probable, this modernization can possibly be against Gazprom objectives and could create complications with further cooperation on energy issues.


Complications in cooperation – this is what is the Russia mostly afraid of. Owing to concerns of problems in cooperation we can witness Russia objecting not only in fields like I mentioned above, but also in issues connected to visa liberalization, creation of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area and others. Exactly these steps would be perceived as course of action that undermines Russian integration efforts in its region and would be clearly understood as violation of previous deals. As Sergey Lavrov claimed, EU and Russia agreed “to avoid any collision between integration processes evolving under aegis of the EU and in the post-Soviet space.[8]


Russia does not believe in the Eastern Partnership, but if red lines are crossed, its reaction will not linger.


In my upcoming blogs I plan to look at Russia’s attitude to the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area and issue of visa liberalization.



[1] Л. Шевцова Конец эпохи: вперед в прошлое. Мир Перемен, No. 4, December 2008.

[2] North Atlantic Treaty Organization Ministers reinforce cooperation in NATO-Ukraine Commission. Anders Fogh Rasmussen. 22 February 2013. Available on-line:

[3] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at 49th Munich security conference. Munchen, 2 February 2013. Available on-line:

[4] Council of the European Union 16th EU-Ukraine Summit: Joint Statement. Brussels, 25 February 2013, p.3.

[5] Ukraine seeks spot supply from Europe to replace Russian gas., 26 February 2013, 19:20. Available on-line:

[6] 16th EU-Ukraine Summit: Joint Statement, p.3

[7] Zagorski, A. (2011) Eastern Partnership from the Russian Perspective. In: Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft Online: International Politics and Society. Electronic ed.: Berlin. IPG-Redaktion, 2011. Available on-line:

[8] Sergey Lavrov on 6 May 2009 In. Zagorski (2011)




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