How the nimble Russian bear pushes around the EU’s lumbering herd of elephants

Russia is brilliantly playing divide and conquer with European Union nations, argues a new paper from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

elephant-and-bear.JPGIn “A Power Audit of EU – Russia Relations“, authors Mark Leonard and Nicu Popescu provide a sharp analysis of exactly how the nimble Russian bear – which on almost every objective measure of soft and hard power is massively inferior to the EU – has been able to run rings around the lumbering herd of elephants that is the 21st century European Union.

Russia has achieved this success, they argue, because it has managed to identify and manipulate the divisions between EU members states who have wildly varying views on how to deal with Russia.

However, instead of arguing that the EU has been split broadly into two camps by the arrival of new but rabidly anti-Russian members such as Poland in the East, Leonard & Popescu argue that, when it comes to relations with Russia, EU members can be divided into five distinct groups:

‘Trojan Horses’ (Cyprus and Greece) who often defend Russian interests in the EU system, and are willing to veto common EU positions;

‘Strategic Partners’ (France, Germany, Italy and Spain) who enjoy a ‘special relationship’ with Russia which occasionally undermines common EU policies;

‘Friendly Pragmatists’ (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia) who maintain close relationship with Russia and tend to put their business interests above political goals;

‘Frosty Pragmatists’ (Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom) who also focus on business interests but are less afraid than others to speak out against Russian behaviour on human rights or other issues;

and ‘New Cold Warriors’ (Lithuania and Poland) who have an overtly hostile relationship with Moscow and are willing to use the veto to block EU negotiations with Russia.

I hadn’t considered EU divisions over Russia in quite that way before, but now I think about it, I tend to agree with these groupings (although ‘Trojan Horse’ is perhaps a bit too strong a term). And the ultimate assessment that Russia has taken advantage of the EU’s structural weakness as best as it could is pretty much spot on, too. The Russian government has invested a massive amount of political capital in wooing those countries it thinks it can do business with, and has been prepared to play hardball (when it can) with those countries who are less friendly to the current Russian regime.

Having said that, Russia isn’t the only country that has noticed and exploited the European Union’s fabled lack of unity. The US is an expert in the game, and regularly takes advantage of its relationships with the UK, Holland and Poland, to name but a few countries. That the Bush admnistration managed to persuade half of the EU’s countries to provide military support in Iraq while EU public opinion was deeply divided on the Iraq War is clear testament to the skill of the US here, as well as to the underlying systemic weakness in the EU’s approach to foreign policy.

The Russian bear should beware when baiting the EU’s herd of elephants, though. The EU does find it tremendously difficult to agree on a common position, but when it does agree on something, the EU has the political muscle to match and defeat any country in the world – witness the recent negotiations over trade between the EU and US.

If the Russian bear overplays its hand and pushes the EU that little bit too far, it might just find itself looking up one day to find a herd of elephants thundering towards it…

Update: Check out Johsha’s post over at Registan.net, discussing some of the implications for Central Asia.

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10 Responses

  1. EUcitizen says:

    The paper you are referring does not come from “European Council on Foreign Relations” as you claim!

    It comes from a newly formed think-tank. Its agenda is already obvious! Damage the rapprochement between the EU and Russia!

    Through History it has become obvious that Russia needs Europe and Europe needs Russia. Moreover the scourge of Communism that separated us (Western Europe and USA) from them (Soviet and Eastern Europe) has been totally and irrevocably defeated! The animosity is stone dead!

    The great problem now is between the Free West (Christian or atheistic) and Islam.

  2. “If the Russian bear overplays its hand and pushes the EU that little bit too far, it might just find itself looking up one day to find a herd of elephants thundering towards it…”

    ****

    The above categories notwithstanding, is it possible for the Russian bear to express reasonable opposition to a given EU position and still have the EU confront it?

    Just how effective are the EU checks and balances with itself?

    On another point in the above post, it’s good to note how the Council on Foreign Relations will do reports like the referenced one on how Russia engages in “divide and conquer” tactics without taking into consideration that some other countries do the same in relation to their own respective interests.

    Was it so much of a matter of Russia twisting or threatening to twist Germany’s hand to get approval for the building of a Russo-German pipeline route away from Poland? Were/are there not elements in Poland which legitimately concerned the Russians and Germans on whether Poland is a reliable transit route?

  3. W. Shedd says:

    The paper you are referring does not come from “European Council on Foreign Relations” as you claim! It comes from a newly formed think-tank. Its agenda is already obvious! Damage the rapprochement between the EU and Russia!

    That’s funny, because the paper clearly states over and over again that it is from the European Council on Foreign Relations, just as Andy cites.

    Now, if you want to say that the ECFR is a “newly formed think-tank” – then sure. It was formed in October 2007, so about 1 month ago. It’s stated goal is “The European Council on Foreign Relations was launched in October 2007 to promote a more integrated European foreign policy in support of shared European interests and values” and it is backed by the Soros Foundation Network, among others.

  4. And note that this cited European Council on Foreign Relations report has a slant much like what one can typically find at the older NY based Council on Foreign Relations.

    The ECFR report suggestively cheers for a more unified EU challenging Russia, which is perceived as being somewhat mischievous.

    This runs complimentary with Soros’ views and that of the people he funds.

  5. Some interesting comments on that report at the bottom of this link:

    http://www.ecfr.eu/content/entry/commentary_pr_russia_power_audit/

    It relates to the title of this discussion:

    EU blames its problems on Putin
    http://talk.guardian.co.uk/WebX?14@902.cGbLej1QtTF@.775edda5/0

    Note that the author of the above thread is if anything the opposite of someone sympathetic to Russian concerns.

  6. Aleks says:

    Andy, don’t you mean ‘nimble’ in the title? You are missing a letter! I would have suggested ‘Dancing Russian bear performs swan lake to the EU’s ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’…

    “The Russian government has invested a massive amount of political capital in wooing those countries it thinks it can do business with..”

    Shouldn’t that read “The Russian government has accepted massive financial captial without having to try to hard to woo foreign investors”?

    Where the money goes, politicians follow. Me thinks Russian government getting too much credit. That’s not to say that the government has made Russia a very attractive place to invest in (flat tax etc.), but foreign investors in Russia bring profits home(!) keep companies alive through exports (as Germany, if I am correct, is now the world’s largest exporter) and provides business tax to the government, keeps people employed etc. etc.

  7. Andy says:

    Thanks Aleks – I did mean nimble.

    I’ve fixed the title now, although I wonder how many visitors I’ll get from Google, seeking information on nimbe Russian bears?

  8. Ian UK says:

    I think the Mark Leonard piece is full of hyperbole.

    Greece and Cyprus are “Trojan Horses”? Come on. There dissent within the EU, when it occurs, is in a quite transparent, obvious and hardly nefarious or hidden. They have a fairly acute security threat from Turkey. Security from this threat from the EU is growing but nascent at best. EU parties — including (especially) Germany — have sacrificed EU principles and tempered their responses to Turkey for their own interests.

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