European Union, Relations with

European Union, Relations with
   In the early days of the Cold War, the United States encouraged its allies on the Continent to enter into an economic cooperation regime in an effort to prevent a future Franco-German war; Washington used its Marshall Plan funds and created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to provide both capital and security for the new arrangement. The original coal and steel customs union, established in the early 1950s, soon blossomed into the more robust European Economic Community (EEC) four years later.
   In its first decade, the EEC had almost no formal contact with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or its Communist allies in the Eastern Bloc. However, with the return of Charles de Gaulle to France’s presidency, U.S. influence over the grouping weakened, and new ties with Moscow were established. In the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, European dependency on Soviet oil and natural gas precipitated even closer cooperation. In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev’s “New Thinking” in the USSR’s foreign relations and his advocacy of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in a “common European home,” in conjunction with a closer East-West cooperation among the European states, particularly the two Germanys, broadened EEC-Soviet cooperation.
   In the early 1990s, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War made it politically feasible for the previously neutral states of Finland, Austria, and Sweden to join the newly formed European Union (EU). The Baltic States and most of the former Eastern Bloc nations began the accession process as well. Under Boris Yeltsin, the relationship between the EU and the Russian Federation was, in large part, determined by forces from across the Atlantic. American policymakers did not wish to see Russia included in either NATO or the EU, while the Kremlin refused to become part of the second-tier European Neighborhood Policy, which Russian elites saw as subordinating the country’s national interest to Brussels without the benefits of full membership in the EU.
   Vladimir Putin provided a solution to the impasse between 2003 and 2005 by expanding previous partnership agreements between Moscow and Brussels, stressing that the EU was Russia’s natural and “most important” partner. The result was the EU-Russia Common Spaces program, which focuses on the establishment of a common economic space; a common space of freedom, security, and justice; a space of cooperation in the field of external security; and a space of research, education, and cultural exchange. In essence, Russia, ever protective of its domestic sovereignty, observes some—but not all—of the burdensome acquis communautaire the EU requires for its prospective members. Trade with EU countries accounts for about one-half of all of Russia’s foreign trade. The EU purchases half of Russia’s oil exports and more than 60 percent of its natural gas, which represent 20 percent and 40 percent of the EU’s overall purchases, respectively.
   The new era of cooperation was underpinned by events abroad, including the September 11 attacks on the United States, which stimulated joint counterterrorism projects, and Russia’s common cause with France and Germany against the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The influence of American neo-conservatives in George W. Bush’s administration shaped the dynamics of EU-Russian relations as a wedge was driven between “old” Europe (France, Germany, and Belgium) and “new” Europe (the former Soviet satellites and republics—particularly Poland and the Baltic republics). The latter have attempted to use their position in the EU to prevent Russian bullying. At the same time, Russia has sought to press the EU on the protection of more than 1 million ethnic Russians in the newly admitted states.
   Russian-EU relations remain closely tied to energy issues, and the recent disputes between Gazprom and Ukraine have presented acute problems; likewise, the planned undersea Baltic gas pipeline has resulted in internal EU frictions as the Baltic States and Poland have condemned Germany’s eagerness to accommodate Russian demands on energy provision. The EU condemnation of Russian military action in Georgia during the 2008 South Ossetian War prompted retaliatory rhetoric from the Kremlin. Issues surrounding visas for Russian citizens traveling to the Kaliningrad exclave—now separated from Russia proper by the EU’s Schengen zone of visa-free travel—also proved problematic for the two entities. The EU’s move to create a security apparatus separate from NATO has also been of concern to the Kremlin; however, the first military-to-military contacts between Brussels and Moscow were established in 2002. Despite cooperation on the Moldova-Transnistria issue, Brussels and the Kremlin have failed to solve a problem that both parties recognize as vital to their respective interests. In May 2009, the EU announced a new plan called the Eastern Partnership, which is intended to shore up the stability of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Belarus, and Armenia while simultaneously preventing them from “backsliding” into alignment with Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed concern at the new initiative, suggesting it subverts Russia’s special relationship with its neighbors in the near abroad.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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