There seems to be a consensus within both Russian and European analytic communities as to the ultimate reason behind the dramatic deterioration of Russia-European Union relations over the last three years. This reason boils down to a single word: Ukraine. “By all estimates the relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union have reached the lowest point,” contends Russian expert Timofei Bordachev. “What both sides saw 20 years ago as an important and mutually beneficial project has been ruined by the military and diplomatic crisis concerning Ukraine.”1 Finnish academics Tuomas Forsberg and Hiski Haukkala characterize the conflict in Ukraine and the consequent rupture in EU-Russia relations as a “perfect storm.”2 According to prominent Russian foreign policy pundit Fyodor Lukyanov, “Ukraine came as a shock and unleashed all the negative feelings vis-à-vis each other which had accumulated during 25 years of [Russia-EU] cooperation.”3 In Tom Casier’s opinion, “with the Ukraine crisis the pragmatic competition that characterized the EU-Russia strategic partnership for a long time has derailed into direct confrontation,”4 while Roy Allison argues that all kinds of differences in Russia’s and the EU’s interests and outlooks had been simmering for years, “until they surfaced prominently and violently around what all along arguably was the most predictable geopolitical and normative flashpoint, Ukraine.”5
Russia-Europe Relations in Historical Perspective: Investigating the Role of Ukraine
There seems to be a consensus within both Russian and European analytic communities as to the ultimate reason behind the dramatic deterioration of Russia-EU relations over the last three years. This reason boils down to a single word: Ukraine. This essay intends to investigate a two-pronged question: 1) how the differing, quasi-imperial natures of Russia and the EU make it hard for them to find an accommodation in their shared neighborhood and 2) how the recent EU-Russia dynamics prompted Moscow’s policy elite to re-conceptualize Russia as a distinct civilization, apart from Europe. While exploring these issues, the essay will maintain a special focus on Ukraine whose role in the Russia-Europe relationship has historically been and continues to be pivotal.
President of European Council Tusk and Ukrainian President Poroshenko leave after a press conference during an EU leaders summit at the European Council, in Brussels, on June 22, 2017. AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS
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