Russia and EU as Civilising Europe

Evidence that great powerhood for Russia meant the ability to decide the fates of other nations was the numerous references to major international crises in other parts of the world. Negotiations about the nuclear programmes in Iran and North Korea were discussed in terms of great power politics.9 Negotiations about the war and post-war settlement in Iraq as well as the invasion of Afghanistan were described in similar terms.10 This demonstrates that the Russian media reproduced non-reflexive attributes of Russian greatness—taking part in deciding the fate of nations. However, even though Russia was often excluded from deciding the fates of Iraq or Afghanistan, the Russian response was muted compared to the Balkans because these parts of the world had no significant emotional connotation for Russia. Moscow happily attributed great power status to other actors who decided the fates of Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Conversely, it was the Balkans and the Black Sea region, both of which presented a type of Holy Grail or Promised Land, where the practical elements of Russia’s great power identity shaped Russia’s perceptions of international actors and its policy choices.

The failure to be accepted, or recognised as equal, by the EU in the process of deciding the fates of the post-Yugoslav states resulted in Russia’s interpretation of the EU as an incompetent, but benevolent Civilising Europe. Apparently, Moscow appreciated Europe’s condemning terrorist attacks of Chechen separatists in Russia. Similar to Pikul’s novels of the 1960s, Russia’s media and policy-makers argued that the main shortcomings of Civilising Europe were its lack of insight into the immutable laws of social development and its experience in dealing with external and internal barbarians. Speaking about the external barbarian, Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov pointed out the dangers of the EU’s incompetent and idealistic ways of dealing with global terrorism and called on Brussels to create a common front against this global evil.11 The internal Barbarian was represented by extreme neo-Nazi groups within Europe. From the Duma, Konstantin Kosachev stressed the incompetence of the European bureaucrats to address issues of extreme nationalism in EU member states.12 In pointing to extreme nationalism and neo-Nazism, Kosachev again used the familiar threat, the Soviet discourse of greatness, i.e. that of Civilising Europe. If it did not heed Moscow’s advice, Europe could descend into barbarism similar to the Prussian militarism of WWI or German Nazism in WWII or even the “Georgian nationalism” of 2008.

The Balkan experience played an important role in the construction of Civilising Europe and its failures. Commenting on the EU operation in Macedonia, a leading Russian observer suggested a new strategy for Russia in Balkan affairs. He stressed that:

It is the EU and then the US, who bear responsibility for Macedonia now.

Let it be their headache, let them look for an exit from the dead-end into which they led the situation through their excessive leniency to the Albanian separatism (now in Macedonia, yesterday in Kosovo). Russia will limit its contribution to “moral solidarity” with the Macedonian authority and a “soft diplomatic support” when the UN Security Council will convene to adopt some resolution on the situation in the republic.13

Later on, when the EU publicised its offer of potential membership to Balkan states, Russian analysts responded with a great deal of scepticism about the future of the regional project given the incompetence of Civilising Europe. They construed the idea of any Balkan state accession to the EU as a false return to Civilising Europe rather than re-union with the True Europe. Speaking about the sacrifices that the countries of Central Eastern Europe had made to join the European Union, Izvestia observer, Maksim Sokolov, concluded that they had ultimately ended up within a Europe of the nineteenth century, one of a wealthy Western Europe and poor Eastern Europe.14 Even Pavel Kandel, a liberal-minded and moderate analyst from the Institute ofEurope at the Russian Academy of Sciences, argued that the concept of a “return to Europe” was unmatched by a process of “Europeanisation”. He pointed to a number of structural economic problems, lack of good governance and administrative capacity, as well as corruption, clientelist relations, and political polarisation. So even for generally moderate political analysts, accession to the European Union and even “Europeanisation” had nothing to do with a return to Europe.15

Having described all these failures of Civilising Europe, Russia still believed that it had some potential to evolve into True Europe. Namely, Russia viewed, with great hope, the growing political ambitions ofthe EU. For example, after Javier Solana had taken office as the CFSP High Representative, Izvestia published and re-published several interviews with him.16 Such favourable attention to the CFSP High Representative was striking when compared to the indifference that Izvestia had displayed towards EU officials and events throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Rhetoric of the Russian media and policy-makers about Solana is revealing. When Solana opposed unilateral recognition of the independence of Kosovo, Russian officials described him as the “wise and experienced” CFSP High Representative, Javier Solana, who warned that recognising Kosovo’s independence might create a precedent for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.17 When Solana did not share Russia’s reprehension of the Ukrainian colour revolution, he and his shuttle diplomacy between Kyiv and Brussels were equated to the behaviour of a kind, but naive and irresponsible hero, like in the Swedish fairy tale Karlsson on the Roof, well known to a Russian audience.18 Though irresponsible and naive, this hero, however, could be educated and deserved certain efforts. This perception informed Russian policy of engaging with the EU during the first terms of Putin’s presidency.

Pursuing this policy at the May 2002 summit, the Russian Federation tabled the joint Action Plan in the Field of ESDP, and a Joint Declaration on Further Practical Steps in Developing Political Dialogue and Cooperation on Crisis Management and Security Matters was issued, pledging to “deepen significantly our political dialogue and cooperation”.19 Also discussed were the prospects of cooperation in conflict prevention, mine clearance, emergency rescue operations, and the EU Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mindful of a gap in ESDP capacities, Russian delegates repeated the offer of airlift support. Annex IV of the Presidency Report on the ESDP in the following month detailed the modalities for Russian participation in conflict management operations: an intensified dialogue, an exchange of information, the invitation to participate once the Concept of Operations was decided, and the potential for the same rights as EU member states in the managing Committee of Contributors if Russia provides “significant forces”.20 At the same time, this effort of cooperation failed because Russia wanted a deeper involvement into EU decision-making in the CSDP sphere. Even though plans for specific interactions were outlined, Russia refused to contribute to the EU ESDP Capabilities Conference and rejected the Seville arrangements for participation in operations because they “had not been negotiated with Russia”.21 Nevertheless, Moscow did not give up on working with the EU.

During this period, extra efforts were made to shape a cooperative security agenda and strategic partnership in many spheres.22 These included co-operation in the settlement of regional conflicts, for example, in regions adjacent to the EU and Russian borders, as one of the priority areas for the creation of Common Space of External Security.23 Moreover, they managed, eventually, to develop formal institutions for consultations on security issues. These arrangements provided that (1) every month, the Russian ambassador to the EU would attend meetings of the Political and Security Committee, (2) every three months, meeting of foreign ministers would take place, (3) meetings two or three times a year at the political director level would take place, (4) summits would occur every six months, and (5) there would be meetings on a wide range of sectorial issues and themes in various working groups, and so on.24

In 2003, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov wrote a long article for Izvestia in which he directly pointed to those areas where True Russia and True Europe could engage in great power practices. He argued that Russians and Europeans practically spoke the same language given their mutual interests on issues such as Iraq, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. Discussing the special hopes Moscow had for EU-Russia interaction in the context of the CFSP and ESDP, the Russian Minister stressed that "all the more prospects were opening in the fields of joint EU- Russia participation in preventing and resolving local conflicts, peace-keeping operations in conformity with the fundamental principles of international law” [italicised in the original].25 Using the same language as Kozyrev, Ivanov stressed that it was “obvious that Russia and the EU were natural allies in the quest for adequate responses to the new challenges and threats”.26

Russia extended this invitation to both the EU and the major European states. In early 2004, Russian Foreign and Defence Ministers, Igor Ivanov and Sergei Ivanov, met with their French counterparts to discuss the future of Russian-French military cooperation. When asked about the future of EU-Russia cooperation in the sphere of conflict prevention, Ivanov responded that Russia had been ready to do this and had expected the EU to make its move for some time. A certain disappointment was expressed, though. Despite the frequent declarations about a common foreign and security policy and its own armed forces, the EU had not managed to create anything tangible.27 The very title of the article reporting on the Ministerial meeting, “‘The Four’ Ministers Set Example for the EU and NATO” described the numerous plans for French-Russian military and technical cooperation, with little reference to the EU and NATO. Eventually, Russia and France increased their cooperation in conflict resolution in Chad and off the Somalia coast.28

Reading the EU as Civilising Europe, Russia felt the need to engage in practices that would educate Civilising Europe, strengthen elements ofTrue Europe, and purge the demons of False Europe from the EU. The territory of the Black Sea region, with its share of conflicts, provided Russia with ample opportunities for educating Civilising Europe. To make the naive Civilising Europe understand reality, Russia had to show Brussels that its naivety and idealism could bring tragedy and human deaths if it did not listen to Russia. It was the domain of hard security where Russia could demonstrate its intellectual superiority over the EU and engage together in the great power practices of changing the fates of nations.

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