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Monday, 30 January 2023
What Europe’s New Russia Crisis Really Means for the Future of Europe

What Europe’s New Russia Crisis Really Means for the Future of Europe

2022-10-31

 

The past few months have been a roller-coaster for European leaders. After months of negotiations, the EU reached an agreement with Turkey in March to stem the migrant flow to Europe. The deal has been working: The number of migrants coming to the EU via Turkey has dropped significantly.

But the deal has had a major side effect: It has put the EU’s relations with Russia in the spotlight, forcing European leaders to confront difficult questions. When it comes to Russia, most seem to agree that the EU is too dependent on Moscow. After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin has proven to be a master at playing the EU against itself. Will Europe’s leaders learn from its mistakes and find a way to protect the EU’s values while still working with Russia? Or will the fear of being on the Kremlin’s bad side push the EU even closer to Moscow?

The EU’s Dependence on Russia

With the notable exception of sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine, the EU has been reluctant to alienate Russia. Although Europe’s dependence on Russian energy has decreased significantly since the Soviet Union fell apart, Europe remains deeply intertwined with Russia in many ways.

Europe needs Russia as an energy supplier and as a source of capital for its banks. Moreover, Russia remains an important trading partner. The EU is Russia’s largest trading partner, accounting for about 40 percent of Russia’s total exports.

Putin’s Playbook

Putin’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 led to direct economic sanctions from the EU and the US. But Putin did not stop there. He also used state-controlled media to put pressure on Europe. He denounced the EU’s sanctions as a Western plot designed to subjugate Russia and incorporated tools from Europe’s old playbook against Moscow into his new one.

The EU vs. Russia: Fighting for the Same Goals

Europe and Russia have much in common when it comes to goals like opposing terrorism and promoting stability in the Middle East. Both want to limit the power of Iran, which is Moscow’s ally in this respect.

Europe and Russia also share an interest in opposing the expansion of Islamist groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda in the region. Both want to prevent the wider spread of radical ideologies that could affect both countries’ own populations.

Russia and Europe also share a common interest in preventing the further militarization of the Black Sea. Russia has repeatedly warned that NATO military exercises on the Black Sea border are a threat to its security.

Putin and the Syrian Crisis

In the Syrian Civil War, Moscow has worked closely with both Damascus and Ankara to protect its strategic advantage — its only naval base in the Mediterranean. For four years, it has provided the Syrian government with military aid and has deployed military personnel and air defense systems at the Syrian base.

 
 

Moscow’s ties with Damascus have been especially close since October 2015, when a US- and NATO-backed coup ousted the Russian-backed President Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria.

Putin and the Rise of European Nationalism

Europe’s nationalist leaders have been able to exploit existing tensions to their advantage. For example, they have taken advantage of the refugee crisis to amplify anti-migrant rhetoric, tapping into deep-seated fears and hatred toward migrants.

Thanks to European nationalism, Russia’s tactics in Syria and Ukraine, and the US election, the world has seen some egregious abuses of human rights. But these stories rarely make it to the front pages of Europe’s newspapers.

The EU vs. Putin: What Comes Next?

Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria have put Europe on edge. After the poisoning of the former Russian spy in Britain, the EU decided to impose more sanctions on Russia. And in September, the EU extended its anti-Russian sanctions until the end of June 2018.

At the same time, the EU is bound by law to pursue peaceful relations with Russia. Given that Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria contravene several principles of international law, the EU cannot maintain friendly relations with Moscow.

The EU needs to decide if it is comfortable with being so dependent on Russia. Is it prepared to live with the consequences?

The Bottom Line

Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria have put Europe on edge. After the poisoning of the former Russian spy in Britain, the EU decided to impose more sanctions on Russia. And in September, the EU extended its anti-Russian sanctions until the end of June 2018.

At the same time, the EU is bound by law to pursue peaceful relations with Russia. Given that Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria contravene several principles of international law, the EU cannot maintain friendly relations with Moscow.

The EU needs to decide if it is comfortable with being so dependent on Russia. Is it prepared to live with the consequences?

 

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