Authors:  Sabina Fischer, Ivan Timofeev

The EU-Russia Expert Network on Foreign Policy (EUREN) brings together 40 prominent foreign policy experts and think tanks from Russia and EU member states. The members of this core group come from different cities in Russia (Ekaterinburg, Moscow, St. Petersburg) and from 14 EU member states (Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden and The Netherlands).

According to EUREN experts in the next decade, the EU and Russia will not be able to overcome the fundamental differences between them. At the same time, they can come to a pragmatic partnership that will ensure peace and stability in Europe. The most plausible scenario is that of a ‘Cold Partnership’

The year is 2030. A Russia–EU summit is being held in Moscow. It is the first summit in the sixteen years since relations between Moscow and Brussels deteriorated in the Ukrainian crisis. Cooperation on environmental and climate issues, harmonising digitalisation standards, relaunching humanitarian cooperation and liberalising the visa regime top the agenda. The opening of negotiations on a new Russia–EU framework agreement and EU–EAEU cooperation roadmaps will be announced at the summit. The new Framework Agreement is intended to replace the long-outdated 1994 Agreement, which has existed largely in name only over the last two decades.

The European Union has virtually recovered from the economic shocks of the early 2020s, emerging from the COVID-19 ordeal stronger and more consolidated due to its economic recovery programme. The course for a more autonomous and independent economy set in 2020/2021 proves conducive to economic growth, as the European Union distanced itself from the economic rivalry between the United States and China but retains its economic ties with both. EU member states also avoid excessive military and political competition with Russia by insisting within NATO that defence spending and the US military presence not be expanded as long as Russia refrains from escalating potential and threats. As a goodwill gesture in return, Russia decides at the beginning of 2022 not to deploy its new intermediate-range Dobrokhot (Well-Wisher) missiles in the Kaliningrad Region and in the European part of Russia. After intense deliberations between the EU institutions and member states, the European NATO members decide to reject deployment of US intermediate- and short-range missiles on their territory. This is the European Union's first major diplomatic achievement in the area of European security.

In early 2024, President Vladimir Putin announces that he will not run for president again, even though the 2020 constitutional amendments would have allowed him two more terms. Putin decides to transfer power to a reliable successor: Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Ogaryov.

Ogaryov had proved his mettle overseeing a very rapid digitalisation of state agencies in 2021–22, which generated significant improvements in efficiency and accountability. Having earned President Putin's confidence and established good relations with the heads of the security services, Ogaryov spearheaded a series of high-profile anti-corruption prosecutions. He had also been the mastermind behind the major judicial reform launched in 2023, whose main purpose was to regain the confidence of Russian and foreign investors and transform the investment climate. There had simply been no other way out for a country whose export revenues had collapsed and whose reserves were nearly exhausted. Ogaryov's agenda featured economic deregulation plans, tax cuts and export diversification.

Being Putin's chosen successor does not automatically secure Ogaryov access to the Kremlin, though: he faces strong competition from the new leader of the Communist Party, Sergey Kumach, as the popularity of leftist ideas grows in the course of an economic crisis accelerated by COVID-19. Unlike the introverted technocrat Ogaryov, Kumach proves to be a charismatic politician, and Ogaryov wins the election by a very small margin. From 2024 the president and ruling party have to deal, for the first time in many years, with a strong opposition under Kumach's leadership – which keeps the government on its toes, forces it to pursue its social agenda and criticises its mistakes.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin's decision not to take advantage of the 2020 amendments massively boosts his popularity. Following Ogaryov's election victory, Putin becomes Speaker of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly. He remains Russia's most popular political figure, with his opinion carrying weight in many policy areas.

Ogaryov's reforms are welcomed by the international and Russian business communities, but foreign policy factors, particularly the protracted crisis in Russia–Ukraine relations, impede the return of foreign investment. In 2024, this knot still looks impossible to unravel. All the parties had sabotaged the Minsk Accords, US–Russia relations are at a low point. After abolition of all the key arms control agreements, Washington and Moscow no longer have anything in common that might compel them to cooperate. Russia has vanished from the American agenda; only the legacy of sanctions and anti-Russian legislation remain.

It is the European Union that brings the parties of the Donbas conflict back to the negotiating table. The new European Commission inaugurated in December 2024 needs a major diplomatic victory to consolidate the Union's more autonomous foreign policy course. This matches Ukraine's new president Vasil Boyko's search for a settlement in the Donbas, which Ukrainians had written off as a hopeless and toxic liability. Russia needs to take steps to avoid jeopardising Ogaryov's reforms. In unofficial talks between Russia, Ukraine and representatives of the unrecognised republics – initiated by the European External Action Service – the parties agree to a gradual demilitarization of the line of contact without formal commitments, based on the seemingly outdated Minsk Accords and personal trust between the leaders. Heavy weapons are withdrawn within a year. In 2026, not a single casualty is recorded on the line of contact. The Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics exist for another eighteen months and maintain contacts with both Ukrainian and Russian representatives. In 2027 both republics hold elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and rejoin Ukraine with special status.

The Donbas talks represent a major breakthrough in EU-Russia relations. As progress unfolds, the European Union gradually lifts its Donbas-related sanctions against Russia. The only measures remaining in place in 2030 are those against Crimea. Ukraine, the European Union, the United States and the overwhelming majority of other states do not recognise Russian sovereignty over Crimea, but Moscow considers the matter closed.

Progress on the conflict with Ukraine greatly helps President Ogaryov's reforms. Russia's investment climate improves significantly, and trust in the judicial system grows enormously. By 2030 the quality of life in many Russian cities is among the best in the world. Economic growth accelerates, boosted by large-scale investment in agriculture, the "green" economy and new energy technologies.

While relations with the European Union are thawing, Moscow works carefully to develop cooperation with China, under the informal guidance of Federation Council Speaker Vladimir Putin. Russia's partnership with China had played a significant role in mitigating the crisis of the early 2020s. Moscow consistently supports Beijing in its growing competition with the United States but opts to remain on the sidelines. This stance suits China: it has nothing to fear from Russia, and no obligations in the event of tensions between Russia and the United States flaring up again.

The 2030 Russia–EU summit is a definite breakthrough in relations. But no-one is under any illusions. Just because the two sides have managed to return to pragmatic cooperation does not mean that the systemic problems in European security have been resolved. NATO is still a concern for many in Russian political establishment, while Russia remains a major military power that many in Europe still perceive as a threat.

Criticism of human rights and democracy in Russia continues. Europe respects President Ogaryov, but does not entirely trust him. Russia is still playing its own game in the Middle East, which is not to everyone's liking. Having radically improved confidence in its judicial system and achieved economic growth, Russia keeps a close watch for external meddling in its domestic affairs. There is more freedom, especially at the local level, but Moscow controls its limits. Russia's parliament has become more active, but the Communist Party under Sergey Kumach, who harbours ideas of a new international communist movement, is an irritant for many in the West. Vladimir Putin, the supposed "éminence grise" behind Russia's policy, is the focus of numerous conspiracy theories.

The world is moving on and the renewed European Union and Russia are moving with it, as cold partners in a multipolar world.


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