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

Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

Chapter 3: The state of the EU-Russia relationship


1.  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. (Paragraph 49)

European Union

2.  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. (Paragraph 54)

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

4.  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. (Paragraph 66)

5.  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. (Paragraph 67)

6.  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. (Paragraph 68)

7.  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. (Paragraph 72)

Current relationship: divided Member States

8.  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. (Paragraph 82)

9.  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. (Paragraph 83)

Building Member State unity

10.  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. (Paragraph 96)

11.  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. (Paragraph 97)

12.  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. (Paragraph 98)

13.  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. (Paragraph 99)

14.  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. (Paragraph 100)

Chapter 4: The shared neighbourhood

Russia's role in the shared neighbourhood

15.  While we are clear that NATO is a defensive alliance, for the Russians NATO is seen as a hostile military threat, and successive rounds of NATO's eastern enlargement have, as the Russians see it, brought it threateningly close to the Russian border. EU enlargement, as it has become conflated with NATO enlargement, has also taken on the aspect of a security threat. These views are sincerely and widely held in Russia, and need to be factored into Member States' strategic analyses of Russian actions and policies. (Paragraph 116)

16.  The responsibility for European defence remains with Member States and NATO. Hostile actions of any kind by the Russian government towards the Baltic states must be met by Member States and NATO with a strong response.(Paragraph 124)

17.  The historical grievance of the rights of ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia offers the Russian government a convenient pretext which could be used to justify further destabilising actions in those states. On the basis of the evidence we have taken, there does, prima facie, seem to be a question to be investigated, in particular whether more steps could be taken to facilitate access to citizenship for ethnic Russians who have long-established residency in these states, but limited ability in the official language. (Paragraph 133)

Eurasian Union

18.  The Eurasian Union is a project to build Russian regional influence in competition with the EU's own arrangements with partner countries. The current incompatibility that is structured into the economic arrangements between the two blocs is in danger of creating new dividing lines on the continent.(Paragraph 146)

19.  The European Commission has been hesitant to engage officially with the Eurasian Union. We judge that the EU should reconsider this approach. We recommend that the Commission should track the development of the Eurasian Union and put forward a proposal to the European Council outlining the basis on which formal contacts could be initiated. (Paragraph 147)

20.  However, we recognise that enabling the two trading blocs to work together is further complicated because Russia is not assiduous in obeying its WTO obligations. (Paragraph 148)

Reviewing the EU's instruments in the shared neighbourhood

21.  In the review of the neighbourhood policy, the EU and Member States face a strategic question of whether Europe can be secure and prosperous if Russia continues to be governed as it is today. Whatever the present Russian government's real intentions may be, Russia's internal governance and its resulting threat perceptions create geopolitical competition in the neighbourhood. The EU's capacity to influence the internal politics of Russia is limited, and Member States have not demonstrated an appetite to make the attempt. Therefore, if influencing Russia's future governance is not on the agenda, Member States instead need to devise a robust and proactive policy to manage competition with Russia in the shared neighbourhood. (Paragraph 168)

22.  The first step is for the EU to distinguish between the legitimate and the illegitimate security interests of Russia. Moscow has a right not to be excluded from the eastern neighbourhood. However, it does not have the right to deny or threaten the sovereign rights of its neighbours. (Paragraph 169)

23.  A strategy to promote reform in the neighbourhood must be matched with a new effort to rebuild relations with Russia. We recommend that the upcoming review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, to be undertaken by the High Representative and the Commission, should consider forums whereby Russia, the EU and the neighbouring countries can work together on regional issues. (Paragraph 170)

24.  Member States must be closely engaged in the process. As part of the review, Member States should take advantage of the pause in enlargement to engage in a fundamental reassessment of their strategic interests in the eastern neighbourhood. There is an unresolved tension between the offer of membership on the table to Eastern Partnership countries and the political will of Member States to follow through, which is not uniform. This creates unrealistic expectations, and complicates Russia's relationship both with these countries and with the EU. Member States must clarify whether EU membership is on offer. This issue should not be left ambiguous in the upcoming review. (Paragraph 171)

25.  We recommend that, once the review is complete, the Commission and the European External Action Service should put forward a strategy to communicate the EU's future policies to Russia and the partner countries. This strategy should explain how the Eastern Partnership and, if so decided, future EU enlargement, work to the mutual benefit of the whole region, including Russia. (Paragraph 172)

26.  Member States' embassies should also play a greater role in EU policies in the eastern neighbourhood. We recommend that the FCO ensures that its embassies in the region monitor and review Commission programmes in the eastern neighbourhood. (Paragraph 173)

Chapter 5: The crisis in Ukraine and the EU's response

Lack of political oversight

27.  An element of 'sleep-walking' was evident in the run-up to the crisis in Ukraine, and important analytical mistakes were made by the EU. Officials in Brussels as well as Member States' embassies all participate in the EU foreign policy process, but all seem to have missed the warning signs. The EU and Member States lacked good intelligence-gathering capacity on the ground. The lack of an integrated and co-ordinated foreign policy was also evident. (Paragraph 215)

28.  Collectively, the EU overestimated the intention of the Ukrainian leadership to sign an Association Agreement, appeared unaware of the public mood in Ukraine and, above all, underestimated the depth of Russian hostility towards the Association Agreement. While each of these factors was understood separately, Member States, the European External Action Service and the Commission did not connect the dots. (Paragraph 216)

29.  The Russians, on their side, were taken by surprise and misjudged the determination of Member States to sign the Association Agreement. When Russian hostility became explicit, the EU had a very small window of opportunity to act. By that stage, events began to take on a momentum of their own. (Paragraph 217)

The pivotal and exceptional nature of Ukraine

30.  It is clear that Russian concerns about the impact of EU trade agreements, while having an economic basis, were also politically driven, while in seeking to address Russian concerns, the Commission was putting forward free-market liberal economic arguments. Both sides were to some extent talking past each other. The absence of Member States' political oversight during this process is glaring. (Paragraph 233)

The EU's response to the crisis

31.  We welcome Member States uniting around an ambitious package of sanctions on Russia. (Paragraph 258)

32.  Sanctions need to be part of an overall strategy of diplomacy and a political process, including intensive dialogue on Crimea. This strategy is not yet in place. (Paragraph 259)

33.  The Russian government is under severe pressure. Internal economic problems, including the falling price of oil, have been worsened by the EU sanctions regime, and are likely to have a very serious impact on the viability of the current government. However, the EU is in danger of having offered President Putin a tool for fomenting further nationalist and anti-EU sentiment. (Paragraph 260)

34.  There is no evidence that sanctions have caused President Putin to shift his stance on Crimea, where Russia has direct and vital security interests through the Sevastopol naval base. (Paragraph 261)

35.  While EU and US sanctions have been broadly aligned, the US has been prepared to target individuals close to the Russian government. If there is no progress on the Minsk Protocol and the situation in eastern Ukraine continues to deteriorate, the EU should find ways of targeting individuals close to President Putin and consider broadening sectoral sanctions into the Russian financial sector. (Paragraph 262)

36.  In the long-term, three-tier sanctions are detrimental to the EU's interests as well as to Russia's. While they could be renewed in the short term, the prospect of the progressive removal of sanctions should be part of the EU's negotiating position. Genuine progress by Russia in delivering the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine should be the basis for ratcheting down sanctions. (Paragraph 263)

Political support for Ukraine

37.  The Minsk Protocol is not being implemented, violence is escalating and with it the risk of a de facto annexation of part of Ukraine. A ceasefire, however desirable, is not in itself a permanent solution: the dismemberment of a sovereign independent state is not acceptable. (Paragraph 269)

38.  There appears to be tacit acceptance within European and Ukrainian political circles that the priority is to move towards a political process in eastern Ukraine, leaving resolution of the status of Crimea to the medium or long term. We support this ordering of priorities: a political process with Russia on eastern Ukraine is urgent. (Paragraph 270)

39.  However, the territorial integrity of Ukraine should not be jeopardised by any tactical steps taken as part of the peace process. As part of the peace process, an international dialogue could be convened to discuss the final status of Crimea. Here the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum, including the UK, could play a useful role. (Paragraph 271)

40.  The possibility of another referendum on Crimea, under international mediation, is one option. We recognise that there is a danger that any such referendum would be coloured by Russia's domination of the political and media landscape in Crimea. It is critical that there should be an open and honest debate, and that citizens should vote without fear of reprisal. Nevertheless, this option should remain on the table. (Paragraph 272)

Economic support for Ukraine

41.  Ukraine's reconstruction will require significantly more resources than have already been committed. We recommend that the United Kingdom should convene urgently an international donor conference for Ukraine. (Paragraph 282)

42.  The disbursement of funds should be predicated on tough economic and political conditionality. This crisis is an opportunity for Ukraine to undertake difficult and much needed reforms. The EU, by holding the Ukrainian government to its commitments, has a role to play. (Paragraph 283)

43.  The Association Agreement will only be a key element of support for Ukraine if the EU upholds its political conditionality. The area which we judge to be of particular importance to the future of Ukraine is in tackling corruption, also a key demand of the Maidan protestors. (Paragraph 284)

44.  Member States, again, must play a role in monitoring and evaluating the implementation of conditionality attached to the disbursement of funds. We recommend that the UK Government should review its own internal mechanisms for monitoring Commission programmes, in order to maintain this political oversight. (Paragraph 285)

45.  Building a Ukraine that is economically successful and secure in its energy supply will need Russian co-operation. The trilateral process, whereby the EU, Russia and Ukraine are engaging in discussions about the impact of the EU-Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, could be a useful template to discuss the broader Ukraine-Russia economic relationship. (Paragraph 286)

Chapter 6: Basis of a future relationship

The way forward

46.  Member States have to live with Russia as a neighbour, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, and as a regional power. (Paragraph 294)

47.  The EU must be guided by a robust assessment of its interests and a sober understanding of today's Russia. There is no prospect of a rapid return to business as usual, but the EU and Member States still need to engage in dialogue, in the course of which the interests of both sides should be reconciled as far as possible. We therefore recommend that the UK Government should consider putting forward a proposal at an opportune moment to reconvene the EU-Russia summits, which are currently suspended. (Paragraph 295)

48.  Events which commemorate our shared pan-European history should stand separate from international disputes. We recommend that EU Member States should continue to participate with Russian leaders in such events. (Paragraph 296)

Enforcing international trade rules

49.  To the extent that the EU engages with Russia it must be without prejudice to its own rules and values. Holding Russia to the commitments to which it has signed up in international forums is a source of leverage for the EU. There is a role for both the Commission and Member States. (Paragraph 303)

50.  The European Commission has played a strong and effective role in holding Russia to its international commitments in the World Trade Organization. (Paragraph 304)

Enforcing anti-corruption and anti-money laundering legislation

51.  Combating corruption should be an essential part of the EU-Russia relationship. Only in this way will the EU be able to prevent the theft of assets from the Russian people. (Paragraph 314)

52.  The UK could play a very useful role at the EU level. We urge the UK Government to take the lead in supporting good practice across the EU. (Paragraph 315)

53.  The necessary EU legislation is in place, but there is inconsistent enforcement across the Member States. It is not enough to enact the law. The EU Commission, if necessary through infraction proceedings, must also ensure that all national governments are implementing the law correctly. (Paragraph 316)

54.  The capacity of some smaller Member States to enforce anti-corruption legislation is limited. The EU should consider providing additional resources—financial, staff and training—to these Member States. Not to do so puts the entire Union's anti-money laundering and anti-corruption regime at risk. We recommend that the Commission should put forward a proposal to assess the shortage of capacity across Member States. This could form the basis of an action plan to address this shortage, and thereby strengthen implementation. (Paragraph 317)

Upholding human rights

55.  The EU and Member States must continue to raise the human rights situation in Russia in international forums and to press Russia on human rights violations in their bilateral relations. It is not sufficient for Member States to delegate this to the EU institutions. (Paragraph 323)

56.  The Convention system, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, remains the most important means of addressing violations of human rights in Russia. Member States, as signatories to the Convention and parties to the Council of Europe, bear a shared responsibility to ensure that Russia respects the rights enshrined in the Convention and the judgments of the Court. (Paragraph 324)

57.  We make a brief postscript on UK policy on the European Convention. If the UK is to retain its credibility in its criticisms of Russia on human rights, then its position would be undermined if it sought to weaken its own commitment to the Convention. Such a move would resonate in Russia in a very significant way and would be a powerful tool of propaganda for the Russian government. (Paragraph 325)

A relationship in the long term

58.  The EU and Member States must pursue a dual-track policy. In the short term, there must be a strong credible response to Russian actions in eastern Ukraine, involving a tough sanctions policy and a strong enforcement of rules. In the long term, the capacity to bring about political change is more likely to be successful if coupled with a willingness to engage with Russia on broader issues. Starting a serious dialogue on issues of shared interest, such as a common economic space and a shared security architecture, as well as cultural co-operation and educational exchanges, could have a positive effect both on public opinion in Russia and on the adversarial mindset present in official circles. (Paragraph 346)

59.  While the current government in Russia may not appear to welcome a strategic dialogue with the EU or the West, the EU and Member States must nevertheless be bold and ambitious in their aims for a better understanding with Russia. (Paragraph 347)

60.  A discussion with Russia on collective security should involve Europe as a whole, along with the US and Canada. Russian security threat perceptions of NATO have to be acknowledged, and also challenged, in any discussions on European security. (Paragraph 348)

61.  We welcome the ongoing co-operation in the fields of culture, education and science, which are vital to build up the relationship with the Russian people. Irrespective of how EU-Russia relations proceed, this co-operation should not be sacrificed. (Paragraph 349)

62.  It would be a failure of imagination and diplomacy if the crisis in Ukraine were to result in a long-lasting era of colder relations and reduced co-operation not only at the political, but also the cultural, level. (Paragraph 350)

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