Civilising Europe in the Balkans

If the OSCE was seen as the international organisation that came closest to the embodiment of the True Europe, other European players would be attributed other roles in the Russian web of meanings. The European Union61 had a low rating in Russia’s perception. In some ways, it was constructed as an object still in the making that combined the elements of True, False, and Civilising Europe. On one hand, it bore aspects of True Europe because it embodied the idea of integration and peaceful coexistence. On the other hand, even this dimension remained unaccomplished and imperfect because of reports of various disagreements between the member states around particular policies, whether agriculture, defence, or relations with the US.62 The economic clout of the EU was neutralised by constant references to its member states.63 In most official negotiations, the Russian foreign ministers would only discuss economic relations or partnership agreements with EU officials.64 Two factors, however, came to raise the EU’s visibility on the Russian radar: deeper EU integration and the EU humanitarian and technical assistance to Russia.

As mentioned before the USSR treated the EEC with almost open animosity after it expanded into areas of the former socialist bloc. Early policies of the Russian Federation were probably only slightly different. Even when Europe took steps to become a more coherent actor in the Maastricht and Amsterdam Treaties, the Russian media did not treat it with any greater seriousness. The EU was not linked, for example, to the concept of True Europe. It was still linked to small prosperous Western Europe. Russian media described the EU as Western European integration rather than European integration when the EU Treaties were approved by national referendums, as in Britain, Denmark, and Ireland.65 What had changed, however, was that the signifier “Western” had lost its negative connotation and acquired a positive meaning with the idea of small, distant, prosperous Western European countries.66 So Western European integration ceased to be associated with egoistic, weak, incompetent, and perfidious False Europe. However, it was still short of becoming a True Europe.

Economic hardship and significant humanitarian aid provided by the EU to Russia swayed the conceptual pendulum to the intermediary category—Civilising Europe. The growing massive economic clout of the EU was obvious, but even more obvious were the significant amounts allocated to Russia by the EU under the TACIS programme and European credits.67 Strikingly, some tropes of Pikul’s text in the 1960s are repeated in the Russian media of the early 1990s when they describe EU humanitarian aid as ifspeaking about a British civilising mission. While Pikul in his earlier texts referred to a British teacher from the Red Cross Committee, later on Russian media used quotes from the British colonial officer and writer R. Kipling to describe EU humanitarian efforts in Russia as a “white man’s burden”.68 Given the fact that the EU was regarded as the embodiment of Civilising rather than True Europe, Russia did not strive to join it. For example, Izvestia mentioned with great irony Prime Minister Major’s radical view that Russia could in future join the EU.69 However, this change of conceptual lens led to a change in Russia’s approach to the EU as an international actor.

When applied to international crisis management, the concept of Civilising Europe definitely suggested that the EU was a handicapped player. It lacked “Russia’s unique insight” because it had no experience of living in extreme conditions as Russia and Yugoslavia did.70 Therefore the EU could easily fall prey to its own naivete and misjudge them. Russia tried to stress that every effort of the EU to deal with the Balkans should be only a prelude to, or made in the framework of, a major effort made by re-united True Europe and Russia. When the EU sent its “troika” mission to Yugoslavia in August 1992, the Russian envoy to Yugoslavia, Yuri Deriabin, although praising the mission as an attempt to find a “pragmatic solution”, pointed out that it was acting on the basis of a mandate from the CSCE.71 Later on, OSCE efforts in Yugoslavia would be juxtaposed to a hasty recognition of Georgia by Brussels.72 These policies were seen as an arena for some kind of educational training and practice for Civilising Europe.

However, even when Russia cooperated with the EU, this interaction was marked by a spirit of indifference. This “cooperation under indifference” became obvious if one analyses Russia’s reaction to the EU efforts to claim a role in international security, which were usually ignored in Russian newspapers. For example, the Russian press chose to quote only one line from the page-long Declaration on Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States adopted at the Edinburgh European Council of 1992. A senior political analyst of Izvestia reported only that the Council’s conclusions praised efforts made by President Yeltsin to effect a historic transformation of Russia.73 No reference, however, was made to the Council conclusions about “joint efforts to handle international crises”, questions of national minorities, and political coop- eration.74 The same happened during the Copenhagen European Council in June 1993. Although Izvestia reported that the Bosnian President Izetbegovic attended the Council to explain his position on a new peace plan and arms embargo, the EU was portrayed as a reactive recipient rather than an active agent in this process. And again, the newspaper did not even mention the Council’s lengthy conclusions on Russia, whereby the EU invited Russia to continue close cooperation in the political field with the view to jointly contributing to the resolution of international crises and strengthening peace and stability in Europe. There were no comments about the Council’s invitation to launch regular meetings of the Commission, the Council, and the Russian President.75

The same indifference was apparent when Russian diplomats started actively to interact with UN Envoy Cyrus Vance and EU Representative David Owen in the framework of the ICFY. Despite the fact that Vance and Owen were received by the Russian foreign minister in Moscow and worked closely with Russian diplomats in the framework of the EU Coordination meeting, Izvestia would describe both diplomats as cochairmen of the Steering Committee of the ICFY. No reference was made to the fact that Owen represented one of the first outcomes of negotiations on political cooperation in the framework of the European Union, which involved many consultations and activities at the EU level.76 As a Russian diplomat put it: “Not that we hoped they could do much, but we did not mind their presence. We thought they might learn something”.77

The same happened when the Russian foreign minister visited Rome to talk to EU foreign ministers on the margins of the WEU meeting.78 The Russian media reported that the Russian minister talked to his British, Spanish, French, and Italian counterparts without any reference to the WEU or the EU.79 No mention was made to the EU Joint Action Plan submitted by Owen to the FAC on 5 November 1993 or to detailed discussions of the plan at various FAC meetings.80 Although Izvestia covered Yeltsin’s visit to Brussels during the European Council in December 1993, relations with the EU were described exclusively in terms of EU-Russia free trade relations81 with little attention given to the launch of regular political consultations between the EU and Russia. The fact that European Heads of States at this summit accorded considerable attention to the Bosnian war was not mentioned,82 nor was the EU Monitoring Mission and EU administration of Mostar. That the Russian leader drew a difference between the True Europe with which Russia was to be reunited and the EU (which was merely a club of industrially developed countries) was clearly stressed in Yeltsin’s speech when the Russian president emphasised “that Russia had extended its hand to all Europeans in order to build a Great Europe”.83 So the European Union was simply perceived as one of all the other Europeans, merely a candidate for building a True Europe.

Obviously Civilising Europe (EU) would never be allowed a special role in the post-Soviet space. When negotiating the first bilateral document, a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, Moscow and Brussels agreed on the commitment to develop “close relations and regional cooperation between the former USSR countries; to promote order and prosperity in the region”.84 As noted above, media accounts stressed that Russia signed an agreement with Western Europe, although the agreement was signed in the building of the Orthodox Church on the Greek island of Corfu.85 In addition, the short media reports of

Yeltsin’s visit to Corfu only briefly mentioned the economic aspects of the PCA86 and made no reference to long discussions between the EU and Russia about the negotiations over Bosnia.87 The tough bargaining strategy adopted by Russian liberal diplomacy while negotiating the PCA with Brussels shows that the EU had no soft power over Moscow at that point in their relations.88

In some cases Russia would try to synchronise its actions with those of the EU, but it would immediately retaliate if the EU pursued a unilateral action in the region. The recognition of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is an indicative example. When the EU at its Lisbon Council in June 1992 declared that the Member states would be ready to recognise FYROM under a name that would not include the word Macedonia, Russia declared its preference for a synchronised decision. But two months later, Russia did not hesitate to proceed with the unilateral recognition of Macedonia. Even though this decision was one of President Yeltsin’s improvisations, the Russian Envoy to the Balkans V. Churkin gave a brusque response to criticism from Brussels. He pointed out that Russia had not been consulted on the document issued after the Lisbon meeting and thus the Russian Federation had no commitment to anyone.89 Russia criticised Germany for taking the lead in the hasty recognition by the EU of Croatia and Slovenia. This was subsequently followed by other EU members and allowed Moscow to demonstrate that the EU was not competent enough to calculate the consequences of its actions.90

On the other hand, when the US turned to a more pro-active “lift and strike” approach in Bosnia, the EU appeared in the accounts about the Balkans.91 So it is only when the EU started to claim a more active role in changing the fate of the Serbs that Russian newspapers saw it as an international actor. However, in these accounts the EU was constructed as an international actor in the making, full of tensions between True and Civilising Europe. First, it was depicted as the actor that merely supported Russia’s position against the use of force in Bosnia rather than as an independent actor with its own position. Second, it was not the entire Union, but only several European countries that, together with Russia, opposed the US policies in Bosnia. Third, even though President Yeltsin and the leaders of the three major EU states agreed to hold regular semiformal meetings to discuss issues of common interest,92 Izvestia presented this Russian-European interaction from the perspective of the future of the OSCE when the structure of European security was on the agenda.93

Despite all the positive interactions between Russia and Europe in the Bosnian crisis, Russia was uncomfortable that it could not fully play a Great Power role. This wariness was expressed in the country’s National Security Blueprint adopted in 1997. This document, elaborated in the year following the end of the Bosnian war, provided for Russia’s national interest to be advanced by the “implementation of an active foreign policy course aimed at consolidating Russia’s position as a great power—one of the influential centres of the developing multi-polar world”.94 Fewer and more sceptical references to the OSCE suggest that by 1997, Moscow had departed from the New Western Russia discourse because it did not pass the efficacy test as defined by Clunan (see Chapter 1). At the same time, as Hopf has argued, the New Soviet Russia discourse could not win because it had been heavily compromised by the Soviet past. Instead a centrist discourse had arisen, which claimed that what Russia had done in inter-ethnic conflicts in the Black Sea region had been legitimate, but that rejected any more forceful Russian actions.95

Several elements were envisaged for the implementation of this discourse. But it was clear from the Blueprint that the very idea of Russia’s great power status was constructed around epiphenomenal attributes of greatness, mostly those referring to the practices denoting formal belonging to, or interaction with, the group of other great powers. Russia’s position as a great power was defined as one of the influential centres of the developing, multi-polar world, which would enjoy equal partnership with other great powers. The idea of Europe again turning into an object of American foreign policy was re-introduced whenever NATO’s expansion was mentioned.96 In view of this the Blueprint referred to the need for the OSCE to play a special role as a coordinating body for Euro-Atlantic security. The crisis of Kosovo was to add further constraints to Russia’s great power identity and affected its international relations narrative.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >