Select Committee on European Union Third Report


33.  Until relatively recently Russia has been surprisingly indifferent to the rise of the EU. That attitude is, however, plainly changing in step with the emergence of the CFSP and the broader evolution of Russian foreign policy.

34.  The change in outlook parallels Russia's decline, to the point where the United States now regards the Federation as merely a "potential" great power alongside China and India.[23] In these circumstances, and faced with both NATO expansion and EU enlargement eastwards, anxiety is evident in Russia at the prospect of a reappearance of the "dividing line" between Russia and the rest of Europe.

35.  Russian concern is reflected in the manifesto, "Russia's development strategy to the year 2010" published in President Putin's first year in office. It opened with a dramatic statement: "By the beginning of the 21st century our country has been confronted with a real danger of finding itself on the periphery of the civilised world as a result of its growing lag in the social, technological and economic fields."[24] Here and later President Putin emphasised the indissoluble link between progress at home and Russia's standing abroad after "decades of stagnation."[25] Later we will consider the state of domestic reform, on which will depend, at least to some extent, on the EU's relationship with Russia, below (paras 58-60).

36.  Moving from words to action has taken time. Since 9/11, however, Russia's decade-long and troubled transition to a functioning democracy within a market economy has been pursued with greater vigour and determination. Meanwhile, abroad Russia has realigned itself with the United States and reorientated itself towards full integration with all international institutions.

37.  Until recently, conflicting views in Moscow kept Russian foreign policy along the familiar tram line "driving wedges" between the power centres in the West. This the then Minister for Europe characterised as the "old agenda", which was "still lurking—not even lurking sometimes—in the shadows." (Q170)

38.  Such an agenda no longer seems realistic. Explaining why Russia would not bother to play off the EU against the United States, former ambassador to Moscow Sir Bryan Cartledge, highlighting the inconsistencies in the EU, told the Committee: "the European Union is not a sufficiently choate entity at the moment. It does not—regrettably, in my view—have an effective common foreign policy, it does not have a tangible defence identity." (Q48)

39.  This is still an issue for debate, even if the incentive to "drive wedges" has diminished. Bilateral relations continue to predominate. One European ambassador is quoted as saying, "Europe has no relations with Putin. It is the personal, bilateral ties, particularly with Schröder and Blair that count, because we have no integrated foreign policy, let alone a policy towards Russia."[26] While Member States still find unilateral advantage by operating on the bilateral plane, this trend is likely to persist.

40.  The proposed enlargement of the EU[27] to Russian frontiers and the emergence of the CFSP have significant implications for the conduct of Russian foreign policy. The 'Foreign Policy Concept' of the Russian Federation approved by President Putin on 28 June 2000 noted: "Of key importance are relations with the European Union (EU). The on-going processes within the EU are having a growing impact on the dynamics of the situation in Europe." In particular it stated: "The EU's emerging military-political dimension should become an object of particular attention."

41.  Since 9/11 President Putin has stressed that "Russia's foreign policy will continue in future to be purely pragmatic." This pragmatism amounts to weighing up Russian power against those of its new partners. "Tight competition is a norm in the international community and in the modern world, competition for markets, investments, economic and political influence. Russia must be strong and competitive in this fight." He is absolutely firm, however, that while using combative language, ("no one is going to war with us in the modern world. No one wants this, and no one needs this") he adds "But no one is really waiting for us either. No one will help us especially. We have to fight for our place under the 'economic sun'."[28]

  1. Whatever doubts linger about the EU as a political entity, its role as a major and growing trade partner with Russia is self-evident. Russia's declared need for direct foreign investment is unlikely to be satisfied without Western European involvement. As EU enlargement continues, the EU and Russia are likely to become ever more interdependent economically. Thus within Russia's larger goal of maximising integration with the external world, the EU potentially plays a pivotal role.

  1. The Common Strategy emphasises that "the main responsibility for Russia's future lies with Russia itself." Russia's progress towards further integration with the West, and with the EU in particular, hinges upon advancing the reform programme. The Committee therefore devoted significant attention to the strength of forces making for continued political stability within Russia and the degree to which institutional obstacles to prosperity have yet to be overcome.

44.  From the beginning of Russia's transition, the EU has sought to influence the future shape of Russia's economy and society through a programme of economic assistance. The initial understanding, that merely economic advice was needed, has latterly given way to a belief that the institutional framework for economic reform is equally important. Institution building has thus now become the focus of assistance. Conversion to Western practices is to Russia's advantage in seeking full integration with the global economy and society. The EU is playing its part. The EU should also mark out and seek to further its own specific interests.

  1. On both sides of the EU-Russia relationship a better understanding of the other party would make for greater progress. Ignorance of the Union and its operations is widespread within Russia, even at the top of government. The Committee therefore believes more should be done to draw the EU and Russia closer together through education and training within member countries to familiarise the Russian officials and, through them, the population at large, with the EU. We also believe that EU officials would in turn benefit from greater familiarisation with Russia.

23   President Bush's National Security Strategy transmitted to Congress, 20 September 2002. Back

24   "Russia's development strategy to the year 2010", 10 May 2002. Back

25   Annual Address by President Putin to the Russian Federal Assembly, Moscow, 18 April 2002. Back

26   "Links with Putin leave Europe out in the cold", Financial Times, 22 May 2002. Back

27   As discussed by the General Affairs and external Relations Council, 2459th Council Meeting. Back

28   Annual Address to the Russian Duma 18 April 2002. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003