Author: Pierre-Emmanuel Thomann. Paris, October 15, 2017.

Original Text has been edited 

Russia and the European Union is not only a geopolitical necessity, but also a natural process because of their geographical proximity. Throughout history, European nations, including Russia, constantly experienced overlapping or contradictory interests. They therefore require constant dialogue to maintain stability and balance of power on the European continent.

Russia serves as a useful counterweight in the context of a balanced policy on a world scale. It also constitutes the energy and commercial hinterland of the EU. The possibility of a strategic partnership between the EU and Russia should therefore be preserved.

EU and Russia need to identify common geopolitical interests in order to engage in a strategic dialogue. Different scenarios can be suggested, at global, pan-European and regional levels.

At global level

As far as evolutions at a global level are concerned, it would be wise to anticipate the consequences of a confrontation of USA/ China. Together, EU and Russia could deter a worsening global scenario in case of spiraling effects of China-USA rivalry. They also have a common interest in avoiding any form of USA-China condominium.

It should also be kept in mind that EU and Russia have a different geographical position. They have a different geopolitical centre of gravity and different security perceptions. EU territory lies in Europe whereas Russian territory lies in Europe and Asia.

At a regional level:  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 till 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.

One pivotal difficulty in EU-Russia relations is the diverging geopolitical vision of EU Member States. This makes EU a more unpredictable partner for Russia. If the EU cannot define its own interests, suspicion about hidden objectives and alignment with extra-European  power objectives will hinder mutual trust during negotiations.

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.

In the French Gaullist doctrine, Russia is a factor of equilibrium in Europe and this role is likely to be reinforced after Brexit.

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.

The main contradiction between the European Union nations and Russia, but also between EU nations themselves, lies in the different “geopolitical representations” of the world according to their geographical position and historical experience.

The way, in which, each nation perceives its role at European and global scales tend to run parallel. These diverging perceptions are based on facts like geography, causing different geographical priorities, but also on the different perception of their interests derived from historical experience and reciprocal misconceptions. Therefore, geography and history are the main factors to understand a crisis.

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 geographies between Eurasian-European and Atlantic, Eurasian-Arctic, Eurasian-Eastern Asian, and Eurasian-Mediterranean and African spaces.

Russia and EU nations have a clear common interest to contain and fight radical and political Islam on external theatres (Middle East, South West Asia and Africa) and internal theatres (terrorism, Islamist proselytism, demography).

The most suitable scenario for EU “strategic autonomy”  is a “moderation” role of EU and Russia to avoid a global US/China confrontation. This would avoid being drawn into the confrontation and having to choose a camp as well as the US/China G2 sidelining EU and Russia in global affairs.

Russia holds one of the keys to security on the European continent and will remain a major energy supplier for the EU, whatever form diversification may take. An energy -, industrial- and political alliance with Russia, is in the interest of the EU, in order to extend its hinterland towards ‘Euro-Siberia’.

The negotiation of a new Eurasian security architecture preserving Russia’s security interests would facilitate the stabilisation of EU’s continental hinterland. It would be a favourable opportunity for the EU to become the centre of equilibrium alongside with Russia which would constitute a valuable counter-weight to other global powers. It would also offer the chance to rebalance the Atlantic Alliance and put greater emphasis on European interests.

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