Russia has a long history of strained relations with the West. Of course we all know about the cold war which nearly brought the planet to the brink of nuclear war, and both before and since they have made many other controversial moves which haven’t always won them friends in the rest of the world.
The relationship between Russia and the EU however is one that has always been complicated and which involves a number of complicated factors. For one, Russia is partly in Europe meaning that in theory it could probably join the EU if it wanted to (and if the EU let it). This leads us to question why it hasn’t, and whether it will do any time soon. How might the EU change if Russia were a part of the huge supranational organization?
And furthermore, it’s also interesting to consider Russia’s status as a neighbour of the EU. With Russia and the EU sharing a boarder, it’s no great stretch of the imagination to think that they may sometimes have disagreements.
Here then we will explore the complex relationship between Russia and the EU, both historically and as it stands. We’ll also look at what the future has in store for this complicated relationship and at how things might change.
Why Isn’t Russia in the EU?
EU membership is an issue in Russia, and several members of the EU have suggested that Russia should join. In one article that was published by the Italian media, the previous Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi described EU membership as the next step in Russia’s ‘growing integration’ with the West. Russia is also currently at odds with much of Europe after promising to deliver S-300 missiles to Iran.
Despite this however, critics have argued that Russia is ‘decades’ away from being fit for EU membership, citing civil rights cases (such as the Pussy Riot controversy), election issues, inflation requirements and more as reasons.
And Russia itself doesn’t seem to have much of an interest in joining the EU as it is anyway. After Berlusconi’s article was published for instance, the only response given by Russia was that it had no current plans to apply for membership. The sheer size of Russia means that it already has huge resources of its own to draw on, while the restrictions that the EU would impose would most likely be difficult for Putin and Russia to follow. He is after all a leader with a rather large ego, and not one who is likely to want to bend to the will of the EU.
If Russia were to join the EU, it would not necessarily be likely to benefit either party. There would no doubt be disagreements which would make it more difficult for new laws to be passed, while the huge size of Russia would potentially place quite a lot of strain on the rest of Europe. In short, the Euro could become devalued, though trade of course would be further improved.
So no EU membership then, but how is Russia’s relationship with the EU otherwise? Well… it’s not an unqualified success…
In 2009 for instance, Russia’s reputation as a gas supplier was hurt. This was due to a deal made between the EU and Ukraine to improve Ukraine’s pipelines. At this point, Vladimir Putin (prime minister of Russia) stepped in and threatened to review Russia’s relationship with the EU if their interests were ‘ignored’. Putin was worried that the EU getting closer to Ukraine could damage Moscow and called the move an ‘unfriendly act’.
Russia also has gripes with particular members of the EU over various matters. For instance, Russia banned Polish meat exports at one point due to allegations of low quality, which lead to Russia vetoing EU-Russia pacts regarding energy and migration as well as an oil blockade on Lithuania. The ban has since been reversed, but historically Russia and Poland have never gotten along well and it’s issues like this that might make Russia and the EU awkward bedfellows if ever they were to merge.
With the Winter Olympics set to take place in Russia, Europe and the rest of the world will have their eyes on the huge country soon. There have already been major problems however with misspending and poor budgeting, so this might do nothing to improve Russia’s standing.
That said, it isn’t all bad news. For one, the EU is still Russia’s largest trading partner by a large partner and accounts for roughly 52% of their foreign trade and 75% of their foreign investment. Likewise, the EU exports hundreds of billions of Euros’ worth of goods to Russia every year. This is still a mutually beneficial relationship then, and one that is worth maintaining – particularly with it being as delicate as it is.