Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2013

The End of an Era in EU-Russia Relations

Dmitri Trenin, Maria Lipman, Alexey Malashenko

May 2013

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Russia’s approach to the European Union (EU) has changed fundamentally over the last few years. The Kremlin is no longer drawing gradually closer to crisis-stricken Europe. Instead, Russia is entering a period of domestic uncertainty and rebalancing its foreign policy to emphasize its Eurasian neighbors and China. Europe should take note. In order to develop an effective strategic approach toward their biggest neighbor, Europeans must deepen their understanding of the changing realities in Russia. For the first time since the late Soviet era, Russians are becoming interested in public affairs. This Russian awakening covers the entire societal spectrum, from libertarians to Orthodox fundamentalists. Russians are becoming more politically active and want more accountability and respect from their rulers. The government finds it hard to meet the challenge of ensuring robust economic growth and development and is unwilling to begin transitioning from authoritarianism to a political system based on the rule of law. Confronted with domestic challenges, the regime has become more insular and isolationist, seeking to solidify its base. The leadership has managed to stabilize its position, and opposition groups are in disarray. A “social explosion” is unlikely to happen anytime soon. The Kremlin’s political relations with the EU have become appreciably cooler. Moscow no longer sees Europe—and its value system in particular—as a model. Russia is, and will continue to be, for the Russians themselves to fix. Outsiders can influence Russian developments only at the margins and not always positively.