Europe-Russia Relations Held Hostage by Russophobia

Russia is wasting its time and diplomatic resources in trying to engage with the European Union’s prevailing politics.

The European Union of 27 member states shares a continent with the largest country of Europe, Russia, and yet, tragically, relations between these neighbors are appallingly bad. What’s more, there is little optimism for improvement because of endemic politics in the EU that are incorrigibly hostile towards Russia.

Incredibly, the last time there was a high-level summit between the leaders of the EU and Russia was in January 2014, more than seven years ago. Since then, relations have gone from bad to worse.

The only way out of the “negative spiral”, as the EU puts it, is for dialogue and restoration of proper diplomatic channels. The problem is that the European bloc accuses Russia of misconduct and makes imperious demands that Moscow shows a change in behavior before a summit of leaders can be granted.

Russia is thus held in an impossible and irrational situation. It is expected to disprove dubious allegations to the satisfaction of the EU. With that kind of contemptible rationale, the conditions for dialogue will never be met. The “negative spiral” in relations is doomed to continue.

There appear to be more enlightened members of the EU who recognize the futility of the bloc’s position regarding Russia. This week at a leaders’ summit hosted in Brussels by the European Council, it was proposed by Germany and France that the EU should hold a top-level meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The proposal from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron was reportedly shot down by other members. Opposition to the idea for a summit with Putin came mainly – but not exclusively – from Poland and the three Baltic states, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda expressed the oppositional view, telling reporters in Brussels: “Without any positive changes in Russia’s behavior, if we start to engage, it’ll send a very bad signal to our partners.”

There we go again. “Changes in Russia’s behavior.” What changes, what behavior? Changes based on false allegations? Such as threatening Europe, annexing Crimea, invading Ukraine, and cyber espionage (which the Americans are actually doing with the collusion of Denmark and Britain, not Russia.)

By “partners”, Nauseda was referring to Ukraine and Georgia, both of which are dominated by anti-Russia politics. But they are not even members of the EU, at least not yet. How perverse is that? EU policy is contingent on non-members’ prejudices.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kubela was in Brussels lobbying EU leaders. He wasn’t attending the summit’s proceedings. Of course, that contradiction would have been too bizarre. But he was given a prominent platform after the meeting along with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

The Ukrainian minister said: “Initiatives to resume EU summits with Russia without seeing any progress from the Russian side will be a dangerous deviation from EU sanctions policy.”

A final EU declaration called for “selective engagement” with Russia on narrow areas of self-interest to the bloc and for the imposition of more sanctions against Moscow over alleged misconduct. In other words, a continuation of the same old futile policy of antagonism that is a dead-end.

Thus a fleeting opportunity for normalization of relations proposed by the two biggest members of the EU was scuppered by a minor group of states whose politicians are notoriously anti-Russian. Indeed, politicians who are feverish in their Russophobia.

Arguably, the reactionary mania that dominates in Poland and the Baltic states is a twisted manifestation of the collective guilt they harbor over their past collaboration in Nazi war crimes. The Soviet Red Army liberated those countries from fascist tyranny, and it seems that Russia has never been forgiven for such a historic victory.

The upshot is that the EU’s policy towards Russia is being held hostage by Russophobia.

By contrast, Russia has consistently urged for a full, high-level dialogue with the European Union. “Such a dialogue is truly needed both for Brussels and Moscow,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov this week.

Marking the 80th anniversary of the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany this week, President Putin wrote a conciliatory article for German newspaper Die Zeit in which he called for openness despite the horrors of the past.

“I reiterate that Russia is in favor of restoring a comprehensive partnership with Europe. We have many topics of mutual interest. These include security and strategic stability, healthcare and education, digitalization, energy, culture, science and technology, and the resolution of climate and environmental issues”, wrote Putin.

In such a momentous week, it is almost incredible that the Russian military was involved in a live-fire stand-off with a British warship that provocatively breached Russia’s territorial waters near the Crimea Peninsula. Britain is no longer a member of the EU. Nevertheless, the armed confrontation underscores the imperative need for dialogue to improve stability and security in Europe. The EU’s position towards Russia is criminally complacent.

The lack of independence by the European Union is astounding. The bloc follows the United States’ hostility towards Russia by implementing self-damaging sanctions and undermining security on the continent.

Then when Washington decides to engage with Moscow by President Biden holding a summit with President Putin in Geneva last week, the Europeans are left flat-footed in their obduracy to improve relations with Russia. And a big part of that obduracy is due to the reactionary politics of member states whose history is haunted by Russophobia.

The European Union boasts of being the world’s largest democratic bloc. The truth is more prosaic. It is crippled as a non-entity because of anti-democratic bigotry within its ranks and a derisory lack of leadership. Tragically, an entire continent is being denied productive and peaceful relations with Russia.

Realistically, Russia is wasting its time and diplomatic resources in trying to engage with the European Union’s prevailing politics.

As Putin wrote in the above article: “The whole system of European security has now degraded significantly. Tensions are rising and the risks of a new arms race are becoming real. We are missing out on the tremendous opportunities that cooperation offers.”

The fault for this abject condition lies entirely with the European Union and its inherent failures as a supposedly democratic structure.