1 – Trade and Geopolitics
BSSB.BE epc.eu 09.04.2015
The EU and its member states continue to search for solutions to the stalemate in EU-Russia relations resulting from Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. To overcome it, various actors and commentators, including the German government, the European External Action Service (EEAS), think-tanks and experts have called for a kind of ‘”grand bargain”.
Its premise is that the EU’s engagement with the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will pacify Russian sensibilities, thereby (hopefully) leading to peace in Ukraine, which will no longer be forced to choose between two integrating regimes.
As German Foreign Minister Steinmeier put it; “We should ask ourselves … whether we have overlooked the fact that it is too much for this country to have to choose between Europe and Russia.”1 The underlying logic is that Ukraine was already engaged in a Russia-led integration, and that EU not only ignored this integration process, but disturbed it by imposing its own choices on Kiev.
The creation of an overarching, inter-bloc framework would eliminate this dichotomy and allow the Eastern Partnership countries to co-exist with both blocs. At a deeper level, this proposal implicitly but unambiguously acknowledges Russia’s “legitimate concerns”, about the EU’s interference with Russia’s “historically emotional ties to Ukraine”, as Steinmeier put it, and the alleged harm that would be caused to pre-existing trade links as a result of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
To address Russia’s concerns, a trilateral dialogue on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) has been set up. The EU aims to find a solution “within the flexibility provided by the EU-Ukraine DCFTA, which, however, will not be amended”.
Yet some commentators are calling for precisely such a revision; others for an upgrade of the trilateral negotiations to a broader inter-regional dialogue, including the EEU. Ostensibly, securing peace in Ukraine is a primary motive for these steps.
The EEAS’s “Issue Paper on Relations with Russia”, for example, explores the possibility of offering a dialogue with the EEU as part of a “package deal” to secure Russia’s commitment to resolve the Ukraine crisis. Such a dialogue would address the repeated calls of the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin to establish equal relations between the EU and the EEU.
Leonard and Krastev have affirmed that “the failure to recognise the opportunity born out of Putin’s project for the EEU is at the core of the current crisis … this is the only project capable of diverting Russia away from the politics of military pressure and nationalistic rhetoric.”
These proposals fall short of details. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) review paper of March 2015 encourages input on how to accommodate the “neighbours of our neighbours”. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken of “talks between the Eurasian Union and the EU on trade issues”, potentially leading to an inter-bloc free trade agreement and giving credence to the ideas of a common economic space “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.
Leonard and Krastev refer to “cooperation and competition between two integration projects, based on different philosophies, but with openness to dual membership and various forms of overlaps and cooperation.” These proposals are formulated in an ad hoc way, based on premises that are tenuous at best, and neglectful of the reality that has developed in the region for the last two decades. In pursuit of a short-term solution, the broader picture and pre-existing trends are neglected.
STATE OF PLAY
The ‘revisionist’ argument makes a number of assumptions about post-Soviet integration in general, and about Ukraine’s commitments to Russia. They deserve closer scrutiny in order to fully grasp their implications.
‘Ukraine has made clear and significant commitments vis-à-vis Russia’
One of the assumptions is that Ukraine has made significant and binding commitments vis-à-vis Russia and its integration regime, which constrain Ukraine’s integration objectives with the EU. This pre-supposition is questionable.
Since the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine has been, at best, a reluctant participant in the Russia-led integration project, seeking at all times to limit its participation to cooperation rather than integration. Ukraine ensured that the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was weak and poorly institutionalised.
When it engaged in other Russia-led projects, it was partially and selectively (an associated member of the 1993 Economic Union, an observer to the 2000 Eurasian Economic Community or within a selective ‘pick-and-mix’ format with the 2003 Common Economic Space).
Even former President Viktor Yanukovych, the most pro-Russian of Ukraine’s leaders, did not deviate from this pattern. In 2011 he refused full membership of the Eurasian Customs Union, and proposed a ‘3+1’ formula, highlighting Ukraine’s selective accession to some of the agreements of the Customs Union. In May 2013, Yanukovych only agreed to Ukraine’s observer status in the Eurasian structures.
Dr Rilka Dragneva-Lewers is Senior Lecturer at the Birmingham Law School, and Dr Kataryna Wolczuk is Reader in Politics and International Studies at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies, both at the Universty of Birmingham.
European Policy Centre
*This is the first part of the article about trade and geopolitics and current crises. More information You can find in the second and in the third parts of this article.