The EU and Russia: before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine - European Union Committee Contents


23.  The early promise of warmer EU-Russia relations, which was evident after Russia's emergence from the Soviet Union, has disappeared. This has happened despite the deep economic relations and energy dependence between EU Member States and Russia.

24.  His Excellency Vladimir Chizhov, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union, saw the crisis in Ukraine not as the cause of the decline in relations but rather as exposing existing problems.[26] Dr Lilia Shevtsova, Senior Associate, Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program, Moscow Centre, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, noted that the "warm season" in relations, around 2001 and 2002, had declined to the point where, by the end of 2013, both sides felt "mutual frustration, disappointment and even disgust regarding each other."[27] His Excellency Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the UK, informed us that "Russia-EU co-operation was grinding to a halt even before the current crisis in Ukraine", and highlighted the lack of progress on the energy dialogue and the new EU-Russia Agreement.[28]

25.  The early post-Cold War years were marked by significant political, economic and social change within Russia itself, as the country instituted a multi-party electoral system, privatised and liberalised its economy, and began to recover from Soviet-era economic stagnation. Throughout this initial period, the EU played an important role—underpinned by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) and other agreements—in supporting institutional and market reform, infrastructural investment, civil society development and other aspects of Russia's transformation. More than ever before, Russian and European individuals, businesses, goods and culture travelled in both directions.

26.  Simultaneously, the EU—alongside other regional institutions, including NATO—developed closer relationships with other states emerging from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, several of which took the decision to become NATO and EU members. Thus, as Russia was changing internally and regaining its economic footing, the geopolitical context around it was also changing.

27.  According to Mr Ian Bond CVO, Director of Foreign Policy, Centre for European Reform, what began in 1994 with the EU-Russia PCA "at a high point, a moment of great optimism when things seemed to be moving forward and reform was progressing very rapidly", had by the announcement of the 2010 Partnership for Modernisation descended into "full self-deception mode" on the part of the EU.[29] This, he and other witnesses argued, resulted from a long process marked by divergent political and economic agendas, and incompatible interpretations of geopolitical realities.

28.  This chapter sets out possible causes for the decline of relations between the EU and Russia, particularly evident in the last decade, and assesses the role of the Member States in driving EU policy on Russia.



29.  Witnesses identified internal changes within Russia as a critical factor which had driven the recent decline in the relationship. Mr Bond told us that "the majority of the decline … reflects developments within Russia itself." He identified rising levels of corruption and the "general decline in Russia's progress towards standards of the rule of law" in particular.[30]

30.  Mr Mikhail Kasyanov, former Prime Minister of Russia (2000-2004) and co-leader of the Republican Party of People's Freedom (PARNAS party), put to us that the decline in relations between Russia, the EU and the West was a result of changes in both "internal policy and external policy" of the current Russian government. By 2008, he explained, Russian politics had become characterised by "managed democracy and capitalism for friends, redistribution of property in a very intensive manner and human rights violations."[31]

31.  Witnesses drew attention to three consequences of these political changes within Russia.

32.  First, a divergence of values between the EU and Russia. Mr Alexander Kliment, Director, Emerging Markets Strategy, Eurasia Group, saw on both sides a "failed expectation of convergent values."[32] Mr Bond added that the problems had arisen because the EU and Russia were working to fundamentally different goals. Mr Bond highlighted the fact that by 2010 the EU was talking about a partnership "based on democracy and the rule of law with a country that very clearly had neither."[33] Sir Andrew Wood GCMG, former British Ambassador to Russia and Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House, said that without shared values, the words "strategic partnership" were "pretty words but they lack concrete meaning."[34]

33.  A second consequence was a ratcheting up of the Russian security architecture. Mr John Lough, Associate Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House, informed us that Russia had seen the "security apparatus return in a very significant way", which had "managed to impose on society a certain view of the outside world."[35] Sir Tony Brenton KCMG, former British Ambassador to Russia and Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, told us of the reliance on "securocrats" as advisers to President Putin, who were "intensely focused on Russian security to the exclusion, probably to the disadvantage in the long term, of developing relations in other ways with the West."[36]

34.  Third, changes in the way in which Russia's economy was now managed had made economic co-operation with the EU more problematic. Professor Richard Whitman, University of Kent, informed us that Russia's model of capitalism had evolved in a way which was "not fully compatible with the EU member states' market economies or with the single market".[37] High levels of corruption were highlighted as a particular issue.[38] Sir Tony Brenton KCMG pointed out that corruption was "central to the system": the system worked so that "you get impunity in exchange for loyalty, and you use your impunity to extract rent from whoever you have control over, so the whole system is sucking funds out of Russian society."[39] Sir Andrew Wood viewed Russia's refusal to tackle "the difficulties of economic and political reform", as well as "domestic repression" and a "statist manipulation of the economy", as lying at the "root of the quarrel with Ukraine."[40]


35.  As Russia has distanced itself from Europe, its government has built up its own opposing ideology, based on Russian nationalism (with ethnic Russians providing the foundation) and conservative values. The Russian Orthodox Church has also come increasingly to the fore as the symbol and bastion of these values.[41] 'Eurasianism', an ideology of anti-Western mobilisation and communitarianism, has returned as a plank of a new nationalist foreign policy. This reflects a long-standing debate within Russian society, with one school of thought seeing Russia as an integral part of Europe and another substantial body of opinion seeing Europe as 'the other', and Russia as a rival or alternative pole of civilisation.

36.  Mr Kliment told us that today, in contrast to the emulation of European norms and values seen during the 1990s, Russia considered itself "independent of European tutelage". It saw itself increasingly as "something apart from Europe, not only in economic and geopolitical interests but cultural interests." The recurring rhetoric that had been present historically in Russian political thinking, of Russia as a "morally exceptional civilisation beset on all sides by decadent enemies", had returned to the political discourse.[42] Dr Shevtsova also described the current political discourse as "'we are not Europe. We do not want to be in Europe.'"[43] Mr Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy and Editor in Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, recognised that Russia was "stressing the difference" between the West and Russia, but "it does not necessarily mean hostility"; it meant rather that the Russian state had no intention to endeavour to "get acceptance on the western side." He judged that the previous relationship with the EU was no longer possible. [44]

37.  Our witnesses drew attention to the strategic motives of these messages. Mr Kliment suggested that Russia saw a "connection" between "European liberal values and the attempts to overthrow regimes that are friendly to Russia."[45] For Dr Shevtsova, the current political discourse was a "doctrine of survival" that allowed the justification of the current government's policies and created an opposing policy, whereby Russia would be "containing demoralised Euro-Atlantic nations whenever and wherever it can, inside Russia and outside Russia."[46]


38.  According to our witnesses, the above narrative survives in Russia on the fertile ground of a sense of disappointment and disillusionment, even betrayal, by 'the West'.[48] Mr Lough noted that there had been a reactivation of the "sense of grievance about the way the Cold War ended and what happened to Russia: the trauma that Russia lived through with the amputation of some of the former Soviet republics."[49]

39.  Mr Lukyanov explained that since the time of President Gorbachev, Russians had viewed the West, especially the US, as "using Russian weakness to achieve their goals", believing that "even if they promise something they never stick to promises." According to Mr Lukyanov, Russians harboured a "deep disappointment in their basic ability to achieve something through negotiations."[50] Dr Tom Casier, Jean Monnet Chair and Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Kent, put to us that the "feeling of humiliation in Russia is enormous." While it was possible to "discuss whether it is rational or not … it is definitely present."[51] The Rt Hon David Lidington MP, Minister for Europe, observed that President Putin was a "Russian nationalist who wants to restore the greatness of Russia after what he sees as humiliation under some of his predecessors".[52]

40.  This sense of humiliation continues today. Mr Martin Hoffman, Executive Director of the German-Russian Forum, explained that Russia attached importance to political signs and gestures which indicated respect for Russia. He cited the Winter Olympic Games held in Sochi in 2014, to which Russian leaders had attached a great deal of importance. Russia felt that the Games had faced unfair ridicule by western media and had been snubbed by certain western leaders.[53]


41.  We asked witnesses whether the Russian public shared these views of disappointment and disillusionment with the West.

42.  Mr Denis Volkov, Head of Development Department at the Levada Centre, explained that public perceptions in Russia had to be understood as being managed and constructed by the Russian government. He pointed out that successive Russian governments had exploited "the situation if not of conflict then of controversy between Russia and the West", and that it had been part of official policy to "exploit the idea of Russia as a kind of besieged castle".[54] Mr Vladimir Kara-Murza, Co-ordinator, Open Russia, said that it was not meaningful to talk about opinion polls, given that "every single nationwide television channel, for more than 10 years, has been monopolised by the regime in power."[55]

43.  Mr Volkov acknowledged that there was "some concern about the polling data", and that "about 25% of the people who we survey think that there can be repercussions when people are answering questions." However, the Levada Centre's approach was always to ask the questions first and only ask for personal data at the end. He added that "people are free to give or refuse to give" that information but that the "absolute majority" agreed to disclose that information. Further, he was confident that the volume of data available allowed the Levada Centre to understand "not the exact truth", but the "broader picture" of what was going on.[56]

44.  It was clear that feelings of nostalgia for the greatness of the Soviet Union were shared by the wider Russian public. Mr Volkov said that the majority of Russian people agreed with President Putin when he said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was one of the major catastrophes of the twentieth century. He added that President Putin was not only leading public opinion but to some extent following it by "trying to be more engaged with what the public think and trying to be the representative of common people." Mr Volkov assessed the polling data to mean that the nostalgia for the Soviet Union was "symbolic". It was not about trying to re-establish the Soviet Union itself, but about trying to re-establish the "greatness, of which there is a lack."[57] We note that the Russian public experience is, of course, particularly affected by the economic hardship that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.

45.  During the crisis in Ukraine, public approval of President Putin increased to one of its highest points in recent years. Dr Shevtsova pointed out that President Putin enjoyed "83% to 85% approval ratings".[58] Speaking in July 2014, Mr Kliment noted that the President's approval ratings were "enviable even when they were at 61%, which was not long ago", but added that the approval ratings had "shot up significantly"; this was "almost entirely to do with Russia's foreign policy".[59]

46.  Sir Tony Brenton said that the President had delivered a "feeling of national pride and self-confidence", which the Russians felt was "part of their birthright." He added that "Putin is the President the Russians like."[60] On the other hand, Mr Kliment noted that this popularity could be a "liability." He told us that the high approval ratings were based on "unrealistic expectations" of what could "be achieved by this new, more expansive, revanchist foreign policy."[61]

47.  Turning to perceptions of the EU, once again there were similarities between the official Russian view and that of Russian public opinion. Mr Volkov noted that for Russians there was little distinction between Europe and the EU—"the average Russian does not go much into what the European Union is; it is more about a general understanding of Europe". Towards the EU there had been a "rather general, positive view", but the attitudes had changed during crises like the war with Georgia and the Crimean annexation, when western leaders criticised Russian politics.[62] Mr Volkov added that only about "a quarter of the population consider themselves Europeans and feel European" and that at the moment, only approximately 15% considered that they had "strong connections to European culture."[63]

48.  Witnesses drew our attention to a duality of perceptions within the Russian elite. Mr Kliment argued that while in the abstract Russians may feel "increasingly encircled by the decadent West", at the same time wealthy Russians "view Europe as a place where they like to spend money, park their capital and take their vacations."[64] Mr Volkov agreed that the West set an aspirational standard of "very wealthy countries with high standards of living and a goal for Russia in raising standards of living".[65]


49.  Russia is increasingly defining itself as separate from, and as a rival to, the EU. Its Eurasian identity has come to the fore and Russia perceives the EU as a geopolitical and ideological competitor. The model of European 'tutelage' of Russia is no longer possible.

European Union

50.  A criticism of the EU, put to us by witnesses, was that as Russia had changed, Member States had been slow to adapt and reappraise their policies and the Commission had continued its programmes of co-operation with diminishing results. As the economic relationship had flourished, the political partnership, with its normative agenda to promote good governance, the rule of law and economic liberalisation, had been less successful. A real strategic partnership had not been built.

51.  The Russian perception was that the EU had sought to impose its own normative agenda on Russia and was unwilling to compromise. Ambassador Chizhov told us that negotiations on the new EU-Russia Agreement (launched in 2008) had stalled because the EU insisted on further trade liberalisation, which Russia could not offer, having just adapted its economy in preparation for joining the World Trade Organization (WTO).[66] Mr Lukyanov said that the only basis for EU negotiations was if the counterpart took "the normative base of the European Union as the base for the mutual relationship", which President Putin "never could accept."[67] Mr Dmitry Polyanskiy, Deputy Director, First Department of CIS Countries, Russian Foreign Ministry, described the EU's approach as "'take it or leave it': if you want it, you accept it; if you do not like it, well, that is your problem."[68] Ambassador Yakovenko said this was a result of the EU viewing Russia as an aspiring member country, "prepared to sacrifice its interests and sovereign rights for the sake of future membership." Such a model could not work for Russia.[69]

52.  Sir Tony Brenton described the EU's approach as "slightly Utopian." The Common Spaces document agreed in 2003 "was full of wishy-washy good intentions but there was nothing substantive there."[70] Mr Václav Klaus, former President of the Czech Republic, was also unsurprised that the previous strategic frameworks for EU-Russian relations "did not materialise", having always considered them to be "empty phrases without real substance."[71] Dr Casier agreed that what had been lacking was "a strategic vision for relations with Russia as well as for the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership."[72]

53.  Mr Pierre Vimont, Executive Secretary, European External Action Service, contested that view. The EU approach was not "so wishy-washy": the EU had engaged on the Partnership for Modernisation with a "clear understanding of what our interests were, and the common interests with Russia". The EU had managed to "get some tangible and significant results", including a threefold increase in trade in ten years, and progress on shared interests such as the Tempus, Erasmus Mundus and research programmes.[73]


54.  The EU's relationship with Russia has for too long been based on the optimistic premise that Russia has been on a trajectory towards becoming a democratic 'European' country. This has not been the case. Member States have been slow to reappraise the relationship and to adapt to the realities of the Russia we have today. They have allowed the Commission's programmes to roll over with inadequate political oversight.

55.  The present institutional structures have not deepened understanding, given each side confidence in the other, or provided for the resolution of emergent conflicts.


56.  Witnesses told us that Member States had lost analytical capacity on Russia. This, we judge, contributed to a concomitant decline in their ability to maintain oversight of the direction of the EU-Russia relationship and, in particular, to monitor the political implications of the Commission's trade and technical programmes.

57.  Mr Klaus recalled that there had been a historic asymmetry, whereby former communist countries "knew the West much more than you knew the East", and that this asymmetry remained.[74] His Excellency Dr Revaz Gachechiladze, Georgian Ambassador to the UK, also noted that there was "not a good understanding of Russia in the West".[75] Turning to recent events, Mr Lukyanov recalled that on the day of the Crimean referendum, when the question had already been announced, he continued to receive disbelieving calls from European diplomats saying: "'It cannot happen. It is just a bluff'." He warned us that with "this level of analysis, I am afraid that more surprises are to come, and not only from Russia."[76] Dr Casier agreed that there was a "huge need for more knowledge about the local situation both in Russia and in the Eastern Partnership countries." This was where "we have to build much stronger analytical capacity."[77] Dr Casier pointed out that President Yanukovych's decision not to sign the Association Agreement (AA) "had been the subject of speculation in the Ukrainian press long before he announced his decision, but took the EU by total surprise."[78]

58.  Mr Josef Janning, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, noted that while there remained experienced diplomats in national capitals, there had been a shrinking of the "strategic space" within ministries of foreign affairs, in which to "go through the options and do analysis".[79]

59.  The Rt Hon David Lidington MP agreed that there was a gap in knowledge and analysis, and judged this to be a function of time and of "various assumptions" made about Russia during the Gorbachev and Yeltsin years. These meant that, by the beginning of 2014, "there were very few officials in any government department or agency, here or elsewhere, who had personal professional experience of working with the old Soviet Union before it collapsed."[80] During our informal discussions we were told that a similar situation prevailed in other Member States as well.

60.  Speaking about the European External Action Service (EEAS), Mr Vimont defended European diplomacy. He was "rather impressed by the level of expertise we found at the European level compared to the expertise I could find in the French Foreign Office."[81] Mr Dmitry Polyanskiy was also impressed by the EU's linguistic ability. In his experience he had come across "certain persons speaking Russian at the same level as we do, so it is more or less their native tongue." He assessed EU analytical capacity differently: the 2004 EU enlargement to eastern Europe and the Baltic states had brought into the EU voices which were more critical towards Russia, which had become more prominent within the EU. In his view, this had contributed to the "fact that the analysis of situations in Russia during recent years has changed a lot from what it was five, six or seven years ago."[82]

61.  Mr Lough viewed it as part of a broader loss of "our capacity to deal with Russia." He said that an important part of the issue was that EU Member States had lost an understanding of the "historical factors that have shaped Russia's existence, the idiosyncrasies of the Soviet Union, and the legacy of that Soviet experience." Without that experience it was "difficult for policy-makers to make sense quickly of what Russia is doing in Ukraine, what its logic is and where this might lead." This was, he said, a "huge deficiency right across our systems."[83] Dr Shevtsova pointed out that diplomacy, however brilliant, could not act when the EU had "no strategy or coherent vision", leaving diplomats "to fight for an understanding on how to proceed." She judged that diplomats were doing what they could "within the circumstances of European paralysis."[84]


62.  Sir Tony Brenton believed that UK diplomacy was "pretty good", but that it had "suffered because of a loss of language skills, particularly in the Foreign Office." This had had a direct effect on the capacity of the FCO to respond to recent events. There was "quite lot of complaint in Whitehall after the annexation of Crimea that the Foreign Office had not been able to give the sort of advice that was needed at the time."[85]

63.  Mr Rory Stewart MP has also written about the shrinking of the strategic space and the loss of deep political and cultural knowledge in the FCO. In 2014 he wrote:

    "People have not been encouraged to devote their intellect and experience to asking hard questions about strategy. We have not learned the lessons of our recent failures. Foreign Office reforms in 2000 reduced the emphasis on historical, linguistic and cultural expertise, and instead rewarded generic 'management skills.' Instead, many of our officials in all departments remain distracted by hundreds of emails and tied to their desks, unable to spend significant time, deeply focused on the politics of other cultures."[86]

64.  Mr Neil Crompton, Deputy Political Director at the FCO, told us in September 2014 that in response to the crisis the FCO directorate with responsibility for dealing with the crisis had been strengthened with a "25% uplift in staff—an additional 13 staff—to deal with Ukraine and Russia". This was a response to the immediate demands of the crisis as well as recognition of the fact that Russia was "a challenge we will be dealing with for many years to come."[87] In December, the Minister told us that other Government departments had also "increased their staff resource for dealing with Russia and Ukraine."[88]


65.  Mr Lukyanov told us that within Russia understanding of the EU and its internal processes was "very poor" and, as the old generation had retired, the new generation was not ready to replace them, which was "a big problem." Russia was now trying to rebuild that capacity and he hoped that the expertise would improve as the emphasis on European studies grew.[89]


66.  There has been a decline in Member States' analytical capacity on Russia. This has weakened their ability to read the political shifts and to offer an authoritative response. Member States need to rebuild their former skills.

67.  While there has been an increase in staff at the FCO to deal with Ukraine and Russia, we have not seen evidence that this uplift is part of a long-term rebuilding of deep knowledge of the political and local context in Russia and the region. We recommend that the FCO should review how its diplomats and other officials can regain this expertise.

68.  There is also a reduced emphasis on the importance and role of analytical expertise in the FCO. The FCO should review how such skills could be renewed and how analysis can feed into decision-making processes.

Neglect of the relationship

69.  Professor Sergei Guriev, Professor of Economics, Sciences Po, said that the relationship between the EU and Russia had suffered from political neglect on both sides, particularly in the last decade. On the EU side, by around 2010, "European foreign-policymakers apparently were busy with other things, which is understandable." This resonated badly in Russia: for a former great power it was "not the hostilities that insult the Russian Government but the neglect." However, he qualified this by saying that while there "was an unfortunate lack of energy in engaging Russia", the offers for partnership were on the table and it was "Russia's choice not to take them." The extent to which Russia was prepared to co-operate with the EU was also "not clear", as Russia grappled with a "major existential crisis … seeing the empire falling apart."[90]

70.  On the other hand, Ambassador Chizhov said that initiatives proposed by the Russians had not met with reciprocal interest from the EU. He offered us the examples of visa liberalisation, and a framework for a new European security architecture, neither of which had been taken forward. In 2010 the Russians had supported the Meseberg initiative—a German proposal for a mechanism for security co-operation between the EU and Russia to resolve the frozen conflict in Transnistria—but this had lacked the support of other Member States and had fallen by the wayside.[91] Ambassador Yakovenko told us that the main body of Russia-EU co-operation at the ministerial level, the Permanent Partnership Council, had not met since late 2011, due to the "High Representative's unreadiness to discuss Russia-EU relations in a systemic way."[92]

71.  In Mr Lukyanov's view, the current approach whereby the Commission led on many aspects of the EU-Russia relationship was unsatisfactory because the relationship required "political will and very hard work."[93] Ambassador Yakovenko too expressed dissatisfaction with the division of competences between the Commission and Member States which "complicate co-operation with any third country, and Russia is no exception." He said that these internal procedures had sometimes been "used as a pretext for demanding unilateral concessions or delaying work on crucial agreements".[94] Mr Lukyanov told us that Russia preferred bilateral relations because the EU was a "very difficult animal" and because President Putin remained "ready to strike deals … but in the normal way in which, for example, big powers come together and decide something."[95]


72.  The current division of competences within the EU, whereby both the Commission and Member States have responsibility for different aspects of the EU-Russia relationship, complicates co-operation with Russia. Russia finds the institutional complexities of the EU difficult to navigate and would prefer to deal with Member States on a bilateral basis. The Commission rightly has some areas of exclusive competence, in trade in particular, but it must be clearly mandated by Member States who should take ownership of the policy and signal it to Russia.

Current relationship: divided Member States

73.  Member States are the critical factor driving forward relations with Russia. Mr Hugo Shorter, Head of EU Directorate (External) at the FCO, told us that "Member States' positions and the action of Member States such as the UK will remain determinant in establishing the EU's position as time goes on".[96] However, we were told that Member States remained divided on Russia and that those divisions had weakened the EU's capacity to deliver a meaningful and strategic partnership.

74.  Dr Casier said that Russia had "always been one of the most divisive issues", with Member States holding "different visions of their relations with Russia and pursuing their own business interests."[97] Associate Professor Tomila Lankina, London School of Economics and Political Science, said that over the last decade Russia had "exploited Member States' vulnerabilities stemming from Europe's dependency on Russia's oil and particularly gas exports."[98] Dr Shevtsova suggested that Russia had "proved tremendously successful and very able and deft in dividing Europe".[99] The Minister viewed these divisions as having "contributed to our strategic European approach to Russia not being as strong as I would like it to be."[100]

75.  Witnesses drew out the distinctions between Member States. At one end of the spectrum, Sir Tony Brenton pointed out that "Germany and Italy have huge economic stakes in a good relationship with Russia", while at the other end "Estonia and Poland are deeply suspicious of a resurgent Russia".[101] In Dr Shevtsova's view, Russia had pursued bilateral relations with different 'tiers' of EU Member States. Tier one included Germany, France and the United Kingdom, while tier two comprised the Mediterranean countries. The third tier was made up of "Trojan horses"—weaker states that could "easily be subjugated and harassed."[102] We assess the roles of the United Kingdom and Germany in more detail below.


76.  The UK is a signatory to the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances (1994). In exchange for Ukraine's accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the UK, alongside the US and Russian Federation, confirmed their commitment to "respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine."[103]

77.  Some witnesses criticised the UK's initially hesitant approach towards the current crisis. In July 2014, Mr Bond told us that the UK had not "been as active or as visible on this as I would have expected and as we might have been a few years ago."[104] The UK had "traditionally been one of the influential" EU players, and he would have liked to "see British Ministers stepping up their activity in this area."[105]

78.  As the crisis unfolded in Ukraine, the UK began to take on a more active role at the international level. Mr Crompton told us that the UK "made much of the intellectual case for the sort of sanctions we believe will have an impact on Russia" in the EU and the Group of Seven, and that the UK had undertaken a "lot of the diplomatic lobbying" at the EU level. Within the United Nations, the UK was "instrumental in securing the General Assembly resolution on Crimea." The UK was also "active in the wake of MH17 in condemning the shooting down of the plane."[106]

79.  The challenge, as Sir Tony Brenton explained, was that UK-Russian bilateral relations had been "dogged by a succession of problems" that had placed the UK at a distance. Furthermore, the positions taken by the UK were "seen in Moscow as being in the shadow of the United States, and therefore if they want to hear the hard western line they will go to Washington rather than come to London." Nevertheless, Sir Tony judged the UK to have been "as effective as we can be against a background of difficult core factors in the relationship."[107]

80.  Turning to the UK's future approach, the Minister told us that Russia could not be considered "a potential strategic partner to the EU", while Russian actions suggested that Russia saw the EU "as a strategic adversary rather than as a potential partner."[108] Mr Crompton confirmed that in the "last period we have largely regarded President Putin as a partner and someone the EU could work with in many different ways. I think that the notion of him as a partner has been challenged."[109]

81.  In response to the crisis, the Minister for Europe informed us that regular dialogues between UK and Russian defence and foreign ministers had been postponed, as had the Lord Mayor's visit to Moscow and the intergovernmental steering committee trade talks, and that a VIP visit to the Sochi Paralympics had been cancelled. Contacts by the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary had focused on Ukraine.[110]


82.  As one of the four signatories of the Budapest Memorandum (1994), which pledged to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity, the UK had a particular responsibility when the crisis erupted. The Government has not been as active or as visible on this issue as it could have been.

83.  We welcome the Government's realistic appraisal of relations with Russia and recognition of the strategic challenge posed by the Russian regime. However, the Government has not developed a strategic response for the long-term and should now do so.


84.  Many witnesses considered that Germany was the key Member State. Mr Kliment said that the absolutely crucial dialogue was between Berlin and Moscow. This was partly because the US and Russia were "just not talking very much at all right now", but also because the framing of Europe's response was "very much to do with the Germany-Russia relationship."[111] Mr Bond agreed that strong economic ties and a strong political relationship had meant that Germany always had "a great deal of weight" with Russia.[112] The UK, Mr Crompton informed us, "strongly" supported the fact that international diplomacy had "been largely led by Chancellor Merkel."[113]

85.  During our discussions in Berlin, four themes struck us as being particularly pertinent. First, there was a particular historical connection and many personal ties between Germany and Russia. Chancellor Merkel herself had grown up in East Germany and spoke Russian fluently. Therefore, Russian actions had been perceived with a particular sense of disappointment. Second, Germany had been the Member State driving and maintaining a united EU position on a strong sanctions policy. Third, Russian actions were perceived in Germany as a direct threat to the security of Europe. Finally, there was a growing sense of frustration in Germany that Russia was not responding to Germany's offer of dialogue, and Germany remained ready to ratchet up sanctions in the absence of progress on the Minsk Protocol.[114]

86.  Dr Hans-Dieter Lucas, Political Director at the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, informed us that both Chancellor Merkel and the Federal Foreign Office were working along a dual-track policy, which involved enforcing economic and financial sanctions, while also continuing to communicate with Russia. Dr Christoph Heusgen, Foreign Policy and Security Adviser to Chancellor Merkel, Federal Chancellery, noted that the Chancellor had spent many hours speaking to President Putin about the current crisis and the implementation of the Minsk Protocol. The Chancellor had been clear that the offer to President Putin of dialogue was open.[115]

87.  Despite this, the amount of contact between the German and Russian governments had been reduced. Dr Lucas informed us that in the past there had been joint meetings of the German and Russian cabinets, but that these had been suspended. Apart from the Chancellor and Foreign Minister, most other ministerial meetings had also been cancelled, though meetings regarding sports and culture had continued.[116]

88.  There appeared to be a political debate taking place within the German establishment about the form that German policy towards Russia should take in the future, with divisions across the political spectrum. Mr Hoffman told us that there was significant pressure on Chancellor Merkel to be outspoken and to take a tough line towards Russia.[117] In Mr Janning's view, Chancellor Merkel's line was beginning to be contested within her own party, with some calling for "a more principled approach to Russia". There were some dissenting voices within the Social Democratic Party and "a lot among the Greens, who are very hard-line on Russia". In his view, Chancellor Merkel therefore had to be "fairly outspoken domestically".[118]

Building Member State unity

89.  Going forward, our witnesses told us that Member States must unite on Russia. Mr Kara-Murza said it was "crucial that the European community, the European Union, speaks as much as possible with one voice".[119]

90.  In fact, witnesses identified a process of reassessment in national capitals, with Member States agreeing that Russian actions required a strategic response. In the FCO's view, while getting initial agreement on sanctions was difficult, it had "actually become easier over the past couple of months." Recent events had changed perceptions of Russia within European governments and there was a recognition that there was "a strategic challenge to Europe through President Putin's behaviour," which required "a strategic response."[120] Dr Casier saw that the EU was now in a "rather unique situation where there is a momentum on which there is a broad consensus."[121]

91.  However, Dr Casier also pointed out that the unity was fragile, and that there was "increasing pressure from certain Member States to return to business as usual".[122] Mr Bond suggested that in response to the current crisis Italy had taken "a rather soft position towards Russia", and that that had "been true of Greece and Cyprus as well."[123] We would view with concern any further softening by these or other governments.


92.  Witnesses suggested that the European Council should take the lead in offering political oversight and co-ordinating a more united position on Russia, with the President of the European Council taking a leading role.

93.  Mr Janning noted that, in recent years, key decision-making and core agenda-setting had increasingly moved to the European Council: "So I see more clearly now than before that the European Council will be the institution in the lead". Dr Casier also expected "the President of the European Council to play an important role, especially given his past and the way in which the role has been developed by his predecessor".[124] The Minister for Europe confirmed that in future "Heads of Government in the European Council will want to be very hands-on in making sure that they are happy with what comes up from the Brussels machine."[125]

94.  This position seems to be supported in Germany. According to Dr Lucas, the German government was convinced that Germany's position towards Russia could only be effective if supported by a broader EU consensus.[126] Mr Janning agreed that it was important for leadership signals "to come through the European Council." If Germany were to continue to be only leader that "would immediately generate mistrust from other Member States and would thus limit the effectiveness of German leadership."[127]

95.  In Chapter 6, we examine the factors that could form the basis of a new strategic policy towards Russia, but as a first step we welcome Mr Bond's suggestion that the EU should "start with a common analysis", and from there "start to draw some conclusions about policy."[128]


96.  Recent events in Ukraine have triggered a fundamental reassessment of EU-Russia relations among Member States, who have shown a surprising and welcome unity in condemning Russian actions and demanding a response. We hope that this unity continues. However, there seems to be less consensus on a constructive way forward, and a resulting danger that current unity could dissolve.

97.  Europe is at the centre of the crisis in Ukraine and relations with Russia. The handling of future relations is a key test for European diplomacy and foreign policy, yet hitherto divisions between Member States have been the most important factor hampering development of a strategic EU policy on Russia. In the long term, only a dual approach, with Member States acting together as well as using their bilateral connections in the service of EU policy, will be effective. The first step must be to maintain solidarity on current policy and to continue to seek a common approach in the response to the crisis. There is a real danger that once the crisis ebbs away Member States will continue to prioritise their economic relations above their shared strategic interests.

98.  We see merit in proposals that the President of the European Council, carrying the authority of the Member States, should take the lead in shaping the EU's policy towards Russia. We recommend that the UK Government should strongly support such a move and bring forward a proposal at the EU level to bolster the role of the President of the European Council on Russia.

99.  The very fact of the European Council exercising its decision-making processes and strategic thinking on Russia will, by demonstrating the engagement of Member States, send an important message to the Russian government. To maintain political oversight, we recommend that the UK Government should ensure that a discussion on Russia is regularly placed on the agenda of the European Council.

100.  The starting point for reviewing the EU's policy towards Russia should be a common analysis, with a view to identifying shared strategic interests and vulnerabilities. The analysis would form the basis of a strategic framework on Russia. We recommend that the UK Government should ask the European Council to commission this analysis from the European External Action Service.

26   Appendix 4: Evidence taken during visit to Brussels Back

27    QQ3, 1 Back

28   Written evidence (RUS0019) Back

29    Q15 Back

30    Q10 Back

31    Q220 Back

32    Q20 Back

33    Q15 Back

34    Q200 Back

35    Q34 Back

36    Q48 Back

37   Written evidence (RUS0008) Back

38    Q98,  Q10 Back

39    Q49 Back

40    Q200 Back

41   Mark Galeotti and Andrew Bowen, 'Putin's Empire of the Mind', Foreign Policy (21 April 2014): [accessed 2 February 2015] Back

42    Q23 Back

43    Q3 Back

44    Q171 Back

45    Q23 Back

46    Q3 Back

47   Threat perceptions of NATO are discussed in Chapter 4 and the particular context of Ukraine and Crimea in Chapter 5. Back

48   This term is usually used to include the EU and US, and sometimes Canada and Australia as well. Back

49    Q48 Back

50    Q172 Back

51    Q114 Back

52    Q263 Back

53   Appendix 5: Evidence taken during visit to Berlin Back

54    Q193 Back

55    Q97 Back

56    Q191 Back

57    Q197 Back

58    Q3 Back

59    Q27 Back

60    Q48 Back

61    Q27 Back

62    Q193 Back

63    Q194 Back

64    Q26 Back

65    Q194 Back

66   Appendix 4: Evidence taken during visit to Brussels Back

67    Q171 Back

68    Q244 Back

69   Written evidence (RUS0019) Back

70    Q30 Back

71    Q216 Back

72    Q110 Back

73    Q155. Tempus is the European Union's programme which supports the modernisation of higher education in the Partner Countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Western Balkans and the Mediterranean region, mainly through university co-operation projects. The Erasmus Mundus programme aims to enhance the quality of higher education and promote dialogue and understanding between people and cultures through mobility and academic cooperation: and [accessed 2 February 2015] Back

74    Q213 Back

75    Q182 Back

76    Q178 Back

77    Q112. The Eastern Partnership governs the EU's relationship with the post-Soviet states of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. It is discussed in more detail in Chapter 4. Back

78   Written evidence (RUS0006) Back

79    Q113 Back

80    Q253 Back

81    Q157 Back

82    Q247 Back

83    Q51 Back

84    Q7 Back

85    QQ31-32 Back

86   Rory Stewart OBE MP, 'Thoughts and Analysis on Putin' (27 May 2014): [accessed 2 February 2015] Back

87    Q64 Back

88    Q253 Back

89    Q180 Back

90    Q79 Back

91   Appendix 4: Evidence taken during visit to Brussels Back

92   Written evidence (RUS0019) Back

93    Q179 Back

94   Written evidence (RUS0019) Back

95    Q179 Back

96    Q63 Back

97    Q112 Back

98   Written evidence (RUS0001) Back

99    Q1 Back

100    Q258 Back

101    Q30 Back

102    Q7 Back

103   Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine's Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 19 December 1994, (UN Document A/49/765): available via [accessed 29 January 2015]. In Chapter 5, we discuss the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances further. Back

104    Q11 Back

105    Q15 Back

106    Q61 Back

107    Q31 Back

108    Q253 Back

109    Q53 Back

110    Q258 Back

111    Q28 Back

112    Q11 Back

113    Q61 Back

114   The Minsk Protocol is explained in more detail in Chapter 5. Back

115   Appendix 5: Evidence taken during visit to Berlin Back

116   Ibid. Back

117   Ibid. Back

118    Q118 Back

119    Q106 Back

120    Q60 (Neil Crompton) Back

121    Q112 Back

122   Ibid. Back

123    Q11 Back

124    Q110 Back

125    Q258 Back

126   Appendix 5: Evidence taken during visit to Berlin Back

127    Q119 Back

128    Q9 Back

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