Security Issues – the New Agenda for EU – Russia Relations

Note: This is a policy paper I wrote for a course I was taking. The professor was interested in it and called it “optimistic”, which led me to consider whether it is realistic. I am publishing it here because, as optimistic as it may be, it is realistic. Enjoy.


In geographical terms, Eurasia encompasses the continents of Europe and Asia – from the British Islands to Japan; from the European Union through the Russian Federation to the Association of South-East Asian Nations. In such a broad space, the security agenda is diverse in the relations between the major powers and the regional actors. Rivalries and agreements in one end of Eurasia are inevitably felt at the other, creating a complex web of geo-political clashes and cooperation, where states unite to form blocs. The European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and other such frameworks play a major role in resolving security questions.

During the Cold War, the security agenda was dominated by military and highly polarized ideological confrontations between the West and the Soviet Union, which constantly threatened to escalate to armed hostilities. Soft security issues, like economics, society and the environment were never at the top of the agenda, but remained in the shadow of the harder security areas. With the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the military and ideological struggle, the security agenda has changed. Economic and societal concerns are rising to the top of the list of confrontational issues between the states and security organizations in Eurasia. This is transforming not only the agenda put forward by the actors, but also the complex association of the actors makes it difficult to discern which organizational structure can address a security topic. To what extent the security agenda has seen a reversal by diminishing the importance of hard security issues and bringing softer areas to the top will be the topic of this policy memo.

Military Security

The Copenhagen school defines military security as “the two-level interplay of the armed offensive and defensive capabilities of states, and states’ perceptions of each other’s intentions”[1]. When it comes to hard security aspect, the actors which take the lead have not changed much since the Cold War. NATO is still the major organization for the Western world. Its expansion to Eastern Europe has brought antagonisms with the Russian Federation and different and conflicting interests in Central Asia have heightened these problems. Also, the fact that it includes the United States brings in the Soviet Union’s old enemy as an actor into Eurasian relations, which further increases the tension for the European countries. Yet, the rise of the European Union as a global player has changed relations between Europe and the rest of Eurasia. With the creation of a Rapid Reaction Force, the EU will be able to intervene militarily in conflicts with the intention of keeping the peace without the participation of the USA and NATO. Also, the deployment of EU police missions has already created (albeit limited) hard power for the organization. Nevertheless, NATO remains the dominant structure for hard security in Europe.

Apart from Russia’s major power status on the global security scene, there have been several security organizations created in Eurasia with the purpose of counter-balancing NATO and US military power. One such structure is the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan, signed in 2002 and recently created a Collective Rapid Reaction Force[2]. Another organization is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan[3]. So far, the SCO has only made statements about security in Central Asia. Both structures are potentially powerful actors, with the SCO including two of the world’s major powers as members. They have the potential of making their member states cooperate in regional security issues and therefore to intervene in conflicts. The CSTO is certainly an attempt at counter-balancing NATO and US influence in the region and would lead to expanding Russian power, which might cause tension with the West. To what extent the EU will attempt to limit Russian power expansion through these organizations, or whether it will initiate dialogue with them, remains to be seen. So far, it has preferred to deal with the member states bilaterally.

With so many structures in Eurasia, there is a lot of hard power tension both on the regional and international level. A simplification of this system and a clear outline of competences are desperately needed to create a more coherent policy. The relationship between the EU and the Russian Federation is complicated as it is, even without the existence and interference of NATO, the CSTO and the SCO. It is unclear to what extent and in what areas these structures can negotiate between themselves, especially if some member states continue to negotiate bilaterally. The situation is a complicated web of agreements because of which conflicts might not be resolved peacefully. Nevertheless, the decreasing importance of hard power and military security, especially between the EU and Russia, is leading to a rise in securitization of other issues, like economic and societal security. This means that clashes between the two actors need not occur through these organizational structures.

Economic and Societal Security

With the changes to the security agenda, there is a rising need to address economic security, which is defined as “access to the resources, finance and markets necessary to sustain acceptable levels of welfare and state power”[4]. The relationship between the EU and Russia on this matter is closely linked with the issue of political power. As Holger Moroff describes it, there is a “double asymmetry – the EU as an economic giant but political dwarf and Russia as an economic dwarf but a politically unified actor and a strategic giant”[5]. For Russia, access to the internal market of the EU is an economic necessity, while for the EU there is a strong desire to export political and social structures and ideals to Russia and its neighbors. This overlap creates friction in the relationship between the two actors.

The differences in economic and political power create a difficult situation for the EU and Russia because of their attempts to mutually influence each other in different areas. Russia’s fear of isolation leads it to look for areas where it can play its trump card, namely hard security and highly political issues, as well as its major energy resource exports, which strongly politicizes its external relations. The EU on the other hand is interested in “expanding its regulatory regimes” and ensuring societal security, which largely de-politicizes its foreign relations[6]. Nevertheless, the EU is constantly cited as the model for economic integration between Russia and its neighbors, which led to the recent announcement of the creation of a customs union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan[7]. In this respect, the EU is becoming more and more successful in exporting its ideals and structures without expanding its borders towards the East. If this continues, there will be two large economic blocs in Western and Central Eurasia – the EU, and another dominated by Russia and including the Central Asian republics. When this will happen depends on the good will and level of cooperation these states are ready to commit themselves to.

The Overlapping Neighborhoods

The questions of the Ukraine and Belarus are the thorns in the side of the EU, since the two states lie between the two powerful players in that part of Eurasia. There is an increasing overlap of interests between the two actors in these states and the situation is one of constant tension. It has become apparent that Belarus tends to cooperate with Russia, while the Ukraine leans towards the EU even though there has been no formal proposal for it to join the Union[8]. With the objective of creating a peaceful neighborhood, the EU has tried to export its ideals to these states, which has led to clashes with Russia, also creating social and economic tension within these countries. Due to the different bargaining chips which the two actors possess, this kind of confrontation is undesirable and disadvantageous for both, especially since Russia has shown that it is ready to exploit its oil and gas exports to the EU through the territory of the two states to gain political advantage, and this has led to the creation of a hostile climate in Europe.

The hard facts point out that Europe depends on Russia’s energy resources and the reciprocal relationship is essential for finished goods. The geographical proximity of the two actors makes them ideal partners for ensuring their common economic security. Yet, this is threatened by the attempts of the EU to export is democratic political and social ideals, which Russia does not accept. Yet, it would be hypocritical of the EU not to be acting in this way, which leads to the problematic relationship which exists between the two actors. Russia, on the other hand, wishes to exploit its military and hard security power in order to influence EU policy towards third countries, like the Ukraine, where it also has interests and this often leads to it playing the energy resource card, causing cold winters in Europe due to gas cut-offs[9]. Also, the EU has a hard time defining its political strategy and it is often not united in its position, a fact which Russia exploits to its benefit by turning member states against each other. This is a big handicap to the EU and might result in undermining of its foreign policy initiatives.

Implications of the New Agenda

The new security agenda of EU – Russia relations is not so much a shift or reversal of priorities, but rather a diversification. While the military and ideological concerns have diminished in importance, the rise of economic and societal issues has not eclipsed them completely. Both sides try to use their strongest cards to influence the other, which creates a lot of tension in areas where they are weak. With the EU’s attempts to export economic and societal structures, Russia has responded with hostility on other fronts and reiterated with creating energy-related problems. With Russia’s attempts to create a new counter-balance to NATO in Eurasia, the EU has responded by increasing its economic activity in the Ukraine, Central Asia and the Caucasus. This interplay between the two actors has two possible outcomes.

First, there can be a situation where there is constant tension between the EU and Russia, leading to a stand-off on these different issues, where each side uses what it has to ‘defeat’ the other and obtain what it wants. The EU is obviously not ready to risk a military confrontation to obtain its soft security goals. Russia would also not risk a military confrontation to stop the EU’s economic expansion. The result is that both sides strive for cooperation on soft security topics and yet end up in confrontation, which is undesirable and disadvantageous for both actors.

Second, there can be reconciliation through consensus. Political cooperation between the EU and Russia exists on very high levels through meetings between the political structures of the two actors. Moroff points out that EU – Russia meetings have the highest frequency of the EU’s external relations[10]. What undermines this process is the existence of bilateral negotiations on certain issues between Russia and some of the EU’s member states. Nevertheless, there has been progress in resolving questions such as the status of the Kaliningrad enclave, which points out the possibility for deeper cooperation on other issues. So far, under the regime of Mr. Putin this has stalled, but the strategic situation can change with the political climate and perhaps with Mr. Medvedev’s leadership.

On the whole, this diversification of the security agenda means that there are more areas where the EU and Russia can interact with each other. During the Cold War, there were a limited number of issues because of the constant military and ideological conflict. Now, with the securitization of economics, society, environment and energy there is greater potential for cooperation, as well as confrontation. Russia has begun to apply the EU economic model with its neighbors, but it remains the dominant power in the region. Whether this will lead to an EU-style integration in Central Eurasia remains to be seen.


The European Union is a weak military actor, but it is increasing its political power and is the world’s largest trading bloc. This gives it the opportunity to influence Eurasian soft security concerns like economics and society, but not so much the harder, military and political security questions, where it requires the aid of the USA. On the other hand, Russia remains a major political and military power not only in Eurasia but on the world scene. Nevertheless, its economic and societal power is weak by world standards, but strong in relation to the Central Asian republics. This allows it to have influence over its immediate neighbors while dominating or counter-balancing the EU and NATO in security issues.

The interplay between the EU and Russia on a diverse number of issues allows both actors to influence each other, but also gives them reasons for conflict. The EU constantly places stress on economic issues, because it is the strongest card it holds, while Russia answers with military and hard security issues because that is its main bargaining chip. This relatively new diversification of the security agenda has a lot of influence on the development of Eurasia as a region. Cooperation, consolidation and consensus will allow both major actors to develop and prosper, while a continuation of the current confrontationist strategy can develop into a Cold War style relationship. The basic requirement for cooperation is good will in practice, which is lacking greatly on both sides at the moment. The fact is that there is a very broad range of security issues where the EU and Russia can cooperate for mutual benefit, but the political climate is such that they do not. Also, the EU should not forget that it can engage not only with the Russian Federation but with structures like the CIS, CSTO or SCO, therefore appealing to more states at the same time, instead of bilaterally. The security agenda is such that these organizations can help integration throughout Eurasia and create a good-will climate of cooperation. If this happens, we can expect beneficial outcomes on all sides.

[1] (Buzan, B. (1991). New Patterns of Global Security in the Twenty-First Century. International Affairs , 67 (3), 431-451.)
[2] (CSTO. (n.d.). Retrieved Jan 4, 2010, from Collective Security Treaty Organization:
[3] (SCO. (n.d.). Retrieved Jan 4, 2010, from Shanghai Cooperation Organization:
[4] (Buzan, B. (1991). New Patterns of Global Security in the Twenty-First Century. International Affairs , 67 (3), 431-451.)
[5] (Moroff, H. (2007). Russia, the CIS and the EU – Secondary Integration by Association? In K. Malfliet, L. Verpoest, & E. (. Vinokurov, The CIS, the EU and Russia: Challenges of Integration (Studies in Central and Eastern Europe). New York: Pelgrave.)
[6] (Idem)
[7] (RIA Novosti. (2010, Jan 04). Customs union to increase Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan’s GDP by 15% – Duma speaker. Retrieved Jan 04, 2010, from RIA Novosti:
[8] (Moroff, H. (2007). Russia, the CIS and the EU – Secondary Integration by Association? In K. Malfliet, L. Verpoest, & E. (. Vinokurov, The CIS, the EU and Russia: Challenges of Integration (Studies in Central and Eastern Europe). New York: Pelgrave.)
[9] (Kramer, A. E. (2010, Jan 3). Russia-Belarus Oil Dispute Threatens Europe’s Supply. Retrieved Jan 5, 2010, from International Herald Tribune Online:
[10] (Moroff, H. (2007). Russia, the CIS and the EU – Secondary Integration by Association? In K. Malfliet, L. Verpoest, & E. (. Vinokurov, The CIS, the EU and Russia: Challenges of Integration (Studies in Central and Eastern Europe). New York: Pelgrave.)

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