Article by Ambassador Chizhov for "The European - Security and Defence Union" Magazine

The Russia-EU Strategic Partnership

Time to enhance the security and economic pillars

Furthering the relationship with the European Union and incrementally progressing towards a common space of economic interaction, human contacts and regional security remains at the heart of Russia’s foreign policy. Our unwavering belief in the vitality of European integration as well as the EU’s ability to overcome the ongoing financial and economic calamities is best manifested by sheer numbers. Russia remains the EU’s third largest trade partner with steep rates of growth, having attained a total trade volume of 307 billion euros in 2011. Approximately 40 percent of Russia’s foreign currency reserves, again the third largest in the world, are nominated in the single European currency.

The objective …

As Russia and the EU weather the storms of a global downturn, elaborate modernization agendas and work in parallel to ensure political, economic and social cohesion, areas of distinct interest overlap are clearly emerging. That is precisely the thinking behind the strategic objective put forward by President Putin earlier this year of advancing towards “a single market from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean with a total volume of trillions of euros”. At the dawn of what has been dubbed “the Asia-Pacific century” the alternative between completing the pan-European project of a continent free of dividing lines from Lisbon to Vladivostok, or facing dwindling political and economic relevance has never been clearer.

Making the right choice involves, above all, jointly searching for interfaces for linking the massive comparative advantages Russia and the EU can offer each other in terms of mineral and energy resources and infrastructure, innovative technologies, investments and Eurasian transport routes. Above all, we should do our utmost to tap into the superior quality of human capital, that has for centuries been a hallmark of Europe, of which Russia is undoubtedly a part. 

… And how to get there

Progress on visa liberalization and the expeditious conclusion of a Russia-EU visa waiver agreement on short-term travel would immediately translate into tangible economic benefits for both sides, while accelerating the modernizing two-way flow of ideas, culture and best practices. Updating the Russia-EU legal framework, presently embodied by a largely obsolete 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, remains essential to instilling our relationship with a robust and forward-looking agenda. Our Partnership for Modernization initiative already serves as a valid platform for harmonizing technical and environmental standards. It can bring sustained mutual benefit, keeping our social infrastructure, scientific capabilities, educational and medical systems on the global cutting edge. Finally, as regional integration efforts unfold across the post-Soviet space, we should explore ways of forging institutional links between the European Commission and the newly established Eurasian Economic Commission with a view to creating a mutually reinforcing trade potential.

Staying ambitious is our only option. Consigning relations to idle drift would allow centrifugal elements to gain traction, thus elevating risks of stalling on pressing issues and backpedalling on the time-honoured heritage of Russia-EU cooperation. What we should avoid is a disheartening build-up of cases of artificial linkages between detached portfolios, blatantly politicized treatment of selective human rights files, as well as attempts to exploit relations for short-term financial gains. 

Benefits from long-term energy cooperation

The latter applies in particular to the energy sector, where Russia has for decades been a trusted partner in quenching EU member countries’ growing oil and gas needs. The EU Third Energy Package, the projected Transcaspian gas pipeline as well as the recent decision by the EU Commission to open antitrust proceedings against Gazprom, while being separate cases with a specific background, have one commonality. They could adversely affect conditions for Russian involvement in EU energy markets, thereby impacting on EU long-term energy security amidst volatile global conditions and ultimately jeopardizing the interests of European consumers. In the case of the Transcaspian gas pipeline hasty EU action could also entail a lasting environmental hazard to the fauna and flora of the Caspian sea basin and coastal regions.

Problematic issues like these should be resolved in a sensible and pragmatic manner, reflecting the strategic nature of the Russia-EU partnership and our economic interdependence. More importantly, the centrality of our relationship’s economic pillar must be reaffirmed through real-time trade and investment as well as by setting far-sighted policy goals while respecting the delicate fabric of agreements in force.

The security agenda

As two neighbours, adjoining a regional arc of volatility fraught with transnational threats and challenges, Russia and the EU stand to gain from forging closer ties in the area of security. True, we can take pride in successfully thwarting pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa through joint navy patrols, collaborating in key international negotiating formats on Iran, the Middle East or Transdniestria, as well as regularly consulting on foreign policy issues at almost every level of seniority and expertise. Nevertheless, this impressive record of cooperation is still a long way from exhausting its vast potential. The amplified post-Lisbon setup of EU CFSP has yet to be matched by commensurate advances in the number and scope of concerted crisis management ventures, joint foreign policy actions and statements.

That is why Russia is pushing for a proactive security agenda with the EU. Above all, our crisis management efforts should be underpinned by a solid conceptual and legal setting elaborated in the spirit of equality. This will cut “red tape” and enable a rapid Russia-EU response to an emerging crisis. In 2007-2009 the time ratio between the actual deployment of Russian forces to an EU-led Mission in Chad/Central African Republic and overcoming inherent decision-making and legal hurdles was around 1:8. If we are serious about containing regional instability together, those numbers need at the very least to be reversed.

Despite having established a productive framework for military-to-military contacts in 2010, Russia-EU defense-industrial cooperation is still fledgling. Yet in such vital areas as helicopter construction and maintenance, strategic airlift and maritime surveillance Russia stands ready to provide reliable and economical solutions to EU shortfalls.

Achieving genuine partnership

Upgrading our “modus operandi” in foreign and security policy will ultimately require a platform for joint decision-making, strategic guidance and comprehensive political control of crisis management efforts. The Meseberg initiative, proposed by Germany in 2010 and supported by Russia, should serve as a valuable blueprint and deserves to be seized in a decisive manner without linkages to narrower regional issues.

Last but not least, achieving genuine strategic partnership implies shifting mental perspective. Our “Common Neighbourhood” in EU terms needs to be viewed as such, not as an arena for a “friend or foe” stigmatization and zero-sum stratagems. 

To succeed globally Russia and the EU must steer closely alongside each other while executing a concerted turn towards economic, social and technological modernization as well as a coherent response to regional security challenges. If bearings are misaligned both sides could end up drifting away from each other, or risking collision. The upcoming Russia-EU summit in Brussels in December presents a golden “window of opportunity” to plot our course into the future.