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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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In the future, the EU will continue its current policy of «selective deterrence» and try to avoid a direct confrontation with the Russian Federation


In light of the deteriorating relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union, which have been relatively low since the beginning of the armed aggression against Ukraine, the occupation of the Crimean Peninsula and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the European Commission issued a joint communiqué on 16 June. The document, which was developed this year under the influence of consultations both within the European Union and negotiations with Russia in Moscow, confirms the EU's commitment to its policy towards Russia, adopted in 2016, and also supplements it with new principles, according to which the EU intends to interact with Russia in the future.

The first principle of the 2016 strategy and the key condition for any substantial change in EU’s stance towards Russia was its implementation of the Minsk agreements. The second principle of EU policy towards Russia was strengthening relations with the EU's eastern partners and other neighbors, including in Central Asia. The third principle identified the need to strengthen the resilience of the EU (including in the context of energy security and hybrid threats). The fourth principle was the possibility of selective engagement with Russia on issues of interest to the EU, and the fifth one was the need to support Russian civil society.

This year's communiqué identified 3 additional principles on which the policy of EU cooperation with the Russian Federation will be based on and which largely restates the previous strategy. These are: push back, constrain and engage. According to the first principle, the EU will continue to push back against human rights violations in Russia and will speak up for democratic values. In this context, the document mentions Russia's aggression against Ukraine and Georgia. The European Union calls on Moscow to take responsibility as a party to the conflict and to fully implement the «Minsk Agreements». It also emphasizes the intention of Member States to more actively challenge the false narratives employed by Russia to justify its actions, to counter hybrid threats, as well as the «passportization» of the Ukrainian population. This paragraph testifies to the understanding by European partners of the challenges posed by Russian certification for Ukraine's national security. At present, the document defines the possibility of imposing appropriate restrictive measures in case the Kremlin continues its subversive activities, but specific instruments or draft sanctions in response to certification have not yet been developed.

In order constrain Russia’s attempts to undermine EU interests, the Union itself must become more robust and resilient, the document said. "We must counter threats and malign actions more systematically and in a joined-up way, whilst ensuring coordination with like-minded partners such as NATO and G7. Member States should coordinate their responses to Russia’s actions even more pro-actively, counter cyber threats and misinformation. In a future, in order to counter disinformation, spread by Russia, the EU intends to strengthen the regulatory framework for social media platforms. Also, the principle of containment applies to the energy sector. An important factor for Ukraine is the paragraph on the EU's intention to support the energy security of its neighbors. «We will support the energy security of our neighbors, including the correct implementation of the agreement on Ukraine gas transit. Completing the synchronization of the Baltic States to the European grid and electricity trade remains a high priority». The common position of the European Union on energy is, of course, a positive moment for Ukraine.

At the same time, Germany's position on the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline contradicts the common European approach enshrined in this communiqué and poses security and political risks for Eastern European countries. This year the Russian Federation has reduced gas supplies to the EU, allegedly due to an explosion at one of Gazprom's enterprises. At the same time, Gazprom ignores the possibility of increasing supplies, in particular, through the underutilized Ukrainian GTS. Because of this, the price of gas on the European market has increased significantly and reached a record $ 525 per thousand cubic meters. All this is happening against the backdrop of rising prices for liquefied natural gas in Asia, as well as a low level of reserves in underground storage facilities in the EU. Ukraine's GTS Operator has been offering additional transit capacities to Gazprom since April. But Russia did not accept the offer ... The Russians continued to create an artificial shortage of gas in the European market, refusing to reserve the additional transit capacities in Ukraine for the fourth quarter of this year. Apart from Ukraine, Gazprom has also refused to reserve the transit capacity of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline through Poland for the fourth quarter, as well as for the first three quarters of 2022!

«By doing so, the Kremlin is sending a clear signal that we should not expect an increase in gas supplies without the launch of Nord Stream-2. We hope that the EU will read this signal correctly and that the European antitrust authority will provide an appropriate assessment», Serhiy Makogon, CEO of the Gas TSO of Ukraine, said. Thus, the adopted strategy is already being tested for compliance with current political realities. In the long run, Russia may put EU in a position when organization will have to make a choice – to violate the principle of diversification of the EU Energy Union, and to supply gas through Nord Stream-2 at full capacity, bypassing Ukraine and Poland, or to be left without Russian gas, which will negatively affect the industry of European countries, which are increasingly dependent on natural gas imports, as well as the economic situation of ordinary Europeans, and hence the domestic political situation of EU member states. Thus, despite the intention of the Member States enshrined in communiqué «to act with unity and consistency, defending their fundamental values, principles and interests», and despite the assertion that «bilateral engagement should not be pursued at the expense of common EU interests and goals», the actions of individual countries, dictated by their own national interests, are currently at odds with the principles of this strategy.

The following item after energy issues is the intention to strengthen the support of the Eastern Partners, to fully realize the potential of the Eastern Partnership Program. The European Union has emphasized the need to carry out effective internal transformations for partner countries. According to the European Union, the key factors that will protect the EaP countries from interference and destabilization attempts by Russia are successful political and economic reforms, in particular, in the areas of the rule of law, human rights, the fight against corruption and good governance. Turning to security cooperation, it is noted that «the agenda of relations with the Eastern Partnership countries could include investing in security partnerships to further increase their resilience». This means that in the future the EU will continue its current policy and try to avoid a direct confrontation with the Russian Federation. At the same time, cooperation in the field of cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, or Ukraine's limited involvement in Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects will allow Ukraine to move towards the de facto integration into the European security system. 

The third principle, which was defined in the communique, stresses possible engagement with the Russian Federation where this cooperation will be beneficial for the EU. This includes, the health sector in the context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the sphere of the economy, as well as support for civil society and free media in Russia. The European Union will continue to interact with the Russian Federation within the framework of international organizations, and the main principle of this interaction will be the full respect of international law as the core of a rules-based international order.

In general, the EU communiqué reaffirmed the principles set out in 2016 strategy. The descriptive part of the document contains rather harsh and realistic rhetoric about the current state of affairs in relations with the Russian Federation. The European Union rejected the possibility of dividing the continent into spheres of influence and stressed the sovereign right of Eastern European states to pursue an independent foreign policy. In addition, the possibility of imposing additional sanctions on Moscow in the event of a continuation of the Kremlin's subversive policy was reiterated, however so far no appropriate measures have been taken in this direction. Ukraine has received a lot of attention in this communiqué. The country is mentioned 17 times in a 14-page document. The rhetoric of the European Union focuses primarily on supporting reforms in Ukraine, and there are currently no objective preconditions for changing European policy in this direction. The EU will continue to provide humanitarian and economic support keeping a limited partnership in the security dimension. Ukraine must continue its internal reforms, which will allow the country to expand cooperation with the EU, in accordance with the «more for more» principle. At the same time, the forthcoming Eastern Partnership summit should be an event leading to strengthening security cooperation between the European Union and Eastern Partnership countries, in particular, in the context of countering cyber threats, combating terrorism and Ukraine's involvement in Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects.