Europe in Russian Foreign Policy and National Security

The European direction has traditionally been one of the most important in Russian foreign policy. Its 2000 concept paper calls the relations with the European countries “traditional priority direction of Russia’s foreign policy. The main goal of Russian foreign policy in Europe is to create a stable and democratic system pan-European security and cooperation.” Further along its narrative, the document mentioned, “The relations with the European Union (EU) are of paramount importance. The processes taking place in the EU have an increasing impact on the dynamics of the situation in Europe. These include enlargement of the EU the transition to a single currency, institutional reforms, and establishment of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Defense Policy (cfsp) and the European Security and Defense Identity (esdi). Regarding these processes as an objective component of the European development, Russia will seek due respect for its interests.”63 The keyword here is the “objective development,” which means that in 2000 Russia was opposed neither to the European integration processes nor its eastward enlargement. At the break of the new millennium, these processes were viewed as a normal outcome of the decade following the collapse of the bipolar system in the European continent. The foreign policy discourse at the end of Yeltsin’s era and the beginning of Putin’s era placed Russia as an interested, engaged, but not disruptive participant of the rapidly changing European security architecture.

Similarly pro-active was the Russian stance in its midterm strategy toward Europe, which defined the main priorities of the bilateral relations as “creation a reliable European collective security system, attraction of the economic potential and managerial experience of the European Union to promote socially oriented market economy in Russia.” Among other aims of the strategy are “creation and strengthening of the partnership between Russia and the European Union in European and world affairs; prevention and resolution of local conflicts through joint efforts in Europe with a focus on international law and the use of force . . . [construction of a united Europe without dividing lines.”64 All these priorities that seemed quite legitimate and understandable, taking into account strong economic ties between Russia and many of the European Union members, were tossed away as a result of the Russian actions in Ukraine. The analysis of the latter shows either dual standards in approaching the matter of the European integration at least in economic terms or pure deception from the very start. For the Associated Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, which the former was about to sign in November 2013 and which became the stumbling block in its relations with Russia, was nothing but what it was striving to achieve with the EU. If, of course, the aforementioned policy guidelines were taken seriously by the Russian leadership and not just the smokescreen western direction of Russia.

The National Security Concept Paper 2000 presents a different outlook on the relations with Europe. The European direction was mentioned there as the very ground zero of the hostile forces trying to hurt Russia and damage its international prestige. The Concept Paper lists “the attempts of other states to oppose the strengthening of Russia as one of the centers of influence in the multipolar world; to prevent exercise of its national interests and to weaken its positions in Europe.”65 This makes Europe not the place of natural habitat for Russian but the birthplace and the battleground of hostile forces for Russia. The dual character of the Russian foreign policy also extends in the rift between its visions on the international system per se and its place there, on the one hand, and the construction of perception of threats to its vital national interests, on the other. In Putin’s first two presidential terms, Russia attempted to embrace Europe; it strived to become a full-fledged member of the European family, but viewed the actions of the European NATO members (and the United States, too) as threatening its national security.

The Foreign Policy Concept Paper of 2008 was drafted when Medvedev replaced Putin as president of Russia. Its language and spirit are far more liberal than its predecessors and any of other successors. The Concept Paper defined Russia’s main aim in the European direction as “cre?ation of a truly open, democratic system of collective regional security and cooperation ensuring the unity of the Euro-Atlantic region—from Vancouver to Vladivostok, without its fragmentation and reproduction of bloc approaches still persisting in the European architecture, developed as a result of the Cold War. The collective security thinking permeates the whole document, with references to the commitment of Russia to play an active role in strengthening the “positions of the Euro-Atlantic region in the global competition” and fortifying the roles of the intergovernmental organizations, such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (where Russia has a membership), in the matter of provision of the regional security, economy, and humanitarian affairs.

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