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.
Following the 2008 Georgia war, Russia reasserted itself as the main power in the Caucasus. The war shattered the old status quo and Moscow sought to make good use of the shifting geopolitical landscape to enhance its strategic footprint in the region. Russia’s policy in the Caucasus has been an example of a subtle balancing act: it appeared to have encouraged Turkish-Armenian reconciliation while at the same time skillfully exploiting the suspicions that this process aroused in Azerbaijan and seeking to put an additional pressure on Georgia. Now, as Turkish-Armenian normalization seems to have hit a snag, Moscow can safely distance itself from what increasingly looks like a failure. After all, having deftly played all its “partners” off against each other, Russia appears to have secured its objective: both Armenia and Azerbaijan tend to lean more on Russia, while Turkey’s relations with the two Caucasus countries has deteriorated. Moreover, Ankara’s ties with Washington became frayed, too, which, from Moscow’s perspective, isn’t bad either.