The EU’s Lumbering Elephant versus the Nimble Russian Bear

Note: The following article also appears in issue 7 of SHIFT magazine.

The Nimble Russian Bear and the EU's Lumbering ElephantThis September, the heads of each of the EU’s 27 member states met in Brussels for what was only the Union’s 2nd ever emergency summit.  Russia had just crushed its neighbour Georgia in a short, sharp war, and only one item was on the agenda – how should the EU respond to a resurgent Russia on its Eastern borders?

After a full day’s discussions, the 27 wise leaders of the European Union managed to reach the not very startling conclusion that “relations between the EU and Russia have reached a crossroads.”  After screwing up all their courage, they went on to warn Moscow that EU-Russia relations would be subjected to “a careful in-depth examination” at the next scheduled EU-Russia summit.

Not exactly the kind of words that would cause the Kremlin, buoyed by an overwhelming military victory to quake in its boots.

Certainly, the Russian media didn’t think much of Europe’s strong words. “Europe Can Keep Sucking Our Oil and Gas,” was the delightfully crude headline emblazoned across Russian tabloid Tvoi Den.

If French President Nicholas Sarkozy had stood outside of the Kremlin just after the summit and put his ear to the door, he would have heard the sound of two vodka glasses being clinked together, and the harsh laughter of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, the two men who run Russia.

The lumbering elephant

By almost every objective measure – population, GDP, military spending to name but a few – Russia is inferior to the European Union.  So why does it seem that Russia is running rings around a beleaguered EU?

Put simply, it’s because the EU draws its strength from unity and Russia is one of the most divisive issues facing the Union today.

The EU is made up of Trojan Horses, Strategic Partners, Friendly Pragmatists, Frosty Pragmatists and New Cold Warriors.

In their excellent November 2007 analysis “A Power Audit of EU-Russia Relations” authors Mark Leonard and Nicu Popescu argued that, when it comes to Russia, the 27 EU member states can be divided into five distinct groups – Trojan Horses, Strategic Partners, Friendly Pragmatists, Frosty Pragmatists and New Cold Warriors.

The list of Strategic Partners (those countries that Leonard and Popescu describe as enjoying a ‘special relationship with Russia’) is relatively small, but contains three of the powerhouses of EU politics – France, Germany and Italy.  Towards the other end of the scale, the group of Frosty Pragmatists (those countries ‘less afraid than others to speak out against Russian behaviour’) is larger, but contains a just one major power – the United Kingdom.  This, combined with the presence of Poland in the ‘overtly hostile’ New Cold Warriors camp, is enough to ensure that the scales of European Union opinion on Russia are frustratingly balanced.

Each EU member state has its own reasons for being either friendly or hostile towards Russia.  Sometimes these reasons are to do with historical emnity (Poland is a particular case in point here).  Other times, it’s because of business interests.  Greece and Cyrpus, for example, are widely seen to be strong allies of Russia within the EU, and have on occasion threatened to use their veto to defend Russian interests.  And, of course, the prospect of becoming overly dependent on Russian energy supplies is making everyone nervous these days.

…  versus the nimble bear

Russia has raised the game of divide and conquer to an art-form..

Russia isn’t the only country that takes advantage of the European Union’s divisions.  The United States regularly takes advantage of its relationships with the UK, Holland and Poland, to name but a few countries.  In fact, every country’s diplomatic service probably spends a great deal of time thinking about how it can use the tactics of ‘divide and conquer’ effectively against the European Union.

But Russia has taken advantage of European complacency about its weakness, and raised the game of divide and conquer to an art-form.

Russia has assiduously courted smaller EU member states, such as Greece to which it provides substantial military support and Cyprus which receives unstinting political support in its dispute with North Cyprus).    At the same time, it has not been averse to threatening other weak EU states and, over the past 5 years, Russia has cut off oil supplies to Estonia, Latvia and Luthuania – each time, co-incidentally, in the midst of a poltical or economic dispute.

But Russia’s real strength has been in building relationships with its ‘Strategic Partners’.  In particular, it has played on France’s desire to see a multi-polar world, and expended considerable energy on increasing trade with Germany and in wooing key German politicians.

Through an early recognition of Europe’s weaknesses, and an astute manipulation of Europe’s member states Russia has been able to outwit its larger neigbour(s) to the West.

But there is still danger for Russia.  No matter how nimble it is, and how sharp it claws, the EU remains an elephant.  The European elephant is slowly waking up to the danger that Russia poses and, if the EU’s 27 member states ever manage to reach a common position, Russia could find itself squashed underneath the feet of an angry Elephant…

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14 Responses

  1. Sam says:

    What a stupid, positively juvenile article. I don’t know why I take your RSS sometimes.

    “The European elephant is slowly waking up to the danger that Russia poses”. WTF?

    That Russia poses a danger to the EU was the basic premise of the article, and it is a moronic one.

    What you see in the Russia/EU relationship is one of deepening economic and political interdependence. That is not a bad thing for the world, for democracy, or for kittens, rainbows and butterflys either.

    That interdependence can also hurt Russia deeply too, as the current economic crisis highlights, so it is not at all a one way street. You also cast some Euro states as naive and easily misled by Russian guile. Hah! Most Euro states and businessmen are hard-headed and pragmatic – they are dealing with Russia because there is something to be gained for them out of the relationship. Don’t patronise them.

    Come to think of it, don’t put pen to paper again either anytime soon, if that’s the best you can do in terms of Russia/EU commentary.

  2. Andy says:

    Interdependence is a good thing. But it doesn’t necessarily equate to (if you’ll pardon the pun) equality of dependence. If one country/bloc is more dependant on the other, then there is always the opportunity to apply pressure to achieve economic or political gains.

    Russia isn’t the big bad bear that some make her out to be. But Russia does pose certain strategical and tactical risks that the EU needs to be prepared to address. And, at the moment, it is not doing that particularly well, because Russia is taking advantage (as others have before) of the EU’s biggest systemic weakness.

  3. I share Sean’s attitude. This article has an flagrantly open Orientalist conception of Russia, projecting it as a wily, malign, Eastern monolith against the free but disunited states of the West – whereas in fact Russia, like all other countries with rational foreign policies, has its own interests – ensuring that the lives of its citizens and peacekeepers (and the interests of its corporations) are respected.

    Da Russophile´s last blog post..Russia Economic Crisis III: On the Importance of Self-Sufficiency in Liquids

  4. Sean? Lol Sam. Sorry. Hope I’m not becoming a senile illiterate.

    Da Russophile´s last blog post..Russia Economic Crisis III: On the Importance of Self-Sufficiency in Liquids

  5. Let’s hope not.

    You’re one of the better bloggers on the subject.

  6. Andy says:

    This article has an flagrantly open Orientalist conception of Russia, projecting it as a wily, malign, Eastern monolith against the free but disunited states of the West – whereas in fact Russia, like all other countries with rational foreign policies, has its own interests

    I’m baffled by this. I went out of my way in the article to point out that Russia is certainly acting rationally in its foreign policy dealings with the EU – in fact, I explicitly compare it with the United States, and say that Russia is doing it better!

    Having said that, it’s very clear from the past few years that Russian diplomacy has had a sharper edge than American diplomacy (when it comes to the EU), and it is very prepared to use its economic muscle where necessary, and to go so far as to cut off oil and gas where it thinks it will work. If the EU and its member states don’t recognise that this is a tool that Russia is fully prepared to use in support of its foreign policy, they are fools doomed to failure.

  7. I think this sentence in particular did it.

    “If French President Nicholas Sarkozy had stood outside of the Kremlin just after the summit and put his ear to the door, he would have heard the sound of two vodka glasses being clinked together, and the harsh laughter of Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, the two men who run Russia.’

  8. Andy says:

    True – I was probably exaggerating a bit there in search of an dramatic turn of phrase.

    But the EU traditionally responds extremely slowly, and not very well to international crises. And Sarkozy, for all his bluster and grandstanding, wasn’t a particularly good mediator.

    I would imagine that Medvedev and Putin would have felt pretty pleased with the way things went, when the EU sat down to hold what they had us believe was a crisis summit and only managed to observe that relations were at a “crossroads”.

    I know I laughed, and probably a bit harshly when I read the summit’s outcome. I was only lacking the vodka, and someone to drink with…

    Andy´s last blog post..What is it with stupid people and Russia?

  9. Chris says:

    I question the notion that the EU should have a single policy on anything or become united around anything at all, except in cases of clear common interest. It is not a state. It is an economic bloc composed of states. Why should Spain care at all about the provincial preoccupations of Latvia, or vice versa?

    Moreover, while I can if I stretch my imagination imagine a scenario in which Russia poses a threat to Latvia, it requires me to enter the realm of speculative science fiction to imagine it menacing Germany, unless by “menace” one means “not sell gas at prices Germany likes.” Using this logic the world’s agricultural producers should unite against the grave menace posed by France’s subsidies to its farmers.

  10. Katie says:

    “I question the notion that the EU should have a single policy on anything or become united around anything at all, except in cases of clear common interest.”

    Surely the development of strong relations with its neighbours must be one of the EU’s most important common interests? The EU is not only an economic bloc, rather it seeks to forge lasting commercial, diplomatic and humanitarian links with all its neighbours, Russia included. In order for it to do so there must be some sort of agreement reached regarding its relationship with exterior powers, so that coherent policies can be adopted.

    With regards to Russia, I fully agree with Andy’s article. By sending out consistently incoherent messages the E.U. does neither Russia nor itself any favours; both become involved in a strategic game as they try to consolidate programs, but since neither is sure of the other’s position, decisive resolution of problems is blurred.

    It’s high time the E.U. decides how it hopes to develop future relations with Russia.

    Katie´s last blog post..Miss Constitution

  11. Chris says:

    “Surely the development of strong relations with its neighbours must be one of the EU’s most important common interests?”

    This assumes that individual countries within the EU actually have common interests with respect to those neighbors. They don’t even have common interests with respect to each other. Look at the insane hostility Poland has toward Germany, for instance.

  12. Marco Borg says:

    The larger EU countries, France, Germany, Italy but strangely enough not Britain ( including David Cameron who unlike David Miliband is English) have recognised the importance of Russia as a huge market, as a country of immense resources and as European and Christian country. They think that just as France and Germany have overcome centuries of warfare countries like Poland should make the same kind of effort which they themselves did.

    These larger countries are highly suspicious of American interference in European affairs often hiding behind a NATO facade and American efforts to diminish EU power through for example trying to push the Islamic veil-wearing Turks into Europe. They also sniff at the hip-hop, trash TV, celeb-infested American culture ( extending even to their presidential elections) being thrown at Europe and most of all are angry at the damage which the twin evils of American Greed and AmerIcan Political Correctness have done to their economies. And are aghast at the enormous power which a tiny clique of people in finance and in the media have over the US.

    The larger European countries are aware that they can develop their own interests in spite of the Baltic states and Poland. The odd man out is Britain which they recognise as being America’s poodle and within America the poodle of the same financial/media clique referred to earlier.

    (The American import of Political Correctness is very strong in Britain where the temporary Polish immigrants, found out that despite being educated, often professionally, young, good-looking, with no criminal records and willing to take factory jobs which uneducated British youth would scoff at, they were unfairly blamed fo the surge in immigration, when the largest body of immigrants by far, legal or illegal, were Muslims and Africans, mostly uneducated with tribes for families, quite a few of whom were criminals and some of whom were actually plotting to blow them up, )

    It is not a case of Russia “cleverly exploiting European divisions”. It is merely the case of recognising the strength of underlying mutual interests and disregarding America’s poodles when trying to develop those interests.

  13. Garzukhal says:

    The biggest enemy of Europe’s denizens is not Russia or it’s unreliable gas supply but the EU itself.

    The article makes clear the EU is disunited. The EU, after all, is 27 nations, some of them powerful and economically independent. This makes a common plan for the EU impossible as the member states are used to acting according to their own interests and desires.

    The EU’s answer to this disunity is soft genocide. The EU, like the Bolsheviks, regard nationality as reactionary and a bulwark to “historical progress”. One of the most savage manifestations of this Bolshevik ideology was the Ukraine famine – an attempt to destroy Ukrainian national consciousness and subsequently Sovietize the Ukraine region.* The EU, by contrast, instead of using the open aggression of famine opts for “soft-power” – bureaucratic usurpation of national governments to promote the semi-hidden agenda of the EU. It’s program basically consists of this:

    1. Promote a liberal culture of death: Abortion, illegitimacy, homosexualism, euthanasia.

    2. Repudiation of national tradition as a result of the above.

    3. Islamise the entire continent with indiscriminate immigration from North Africa and Asia and criminalise opposition to this.

    The end result will be deletion of the Europe’s Christian nations. And then Europe will be unified.

    The Bolsheviks or the Nazis could never succeed with their plans because they were so openly aggressive, so obviously anti-human, that their programs naturally incurred opposition. The EU stands a good chance of success because it has a false aura of civilised respectability and legitimacy.

    * This practically amounted to the Russification of the Ukraine region which causes trouble to this day.

  1. December 9, 2008

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