The Russian Discourses on the New and the Old in Europe

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The Russian Discourses on the New and the Old in Europe

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4.2. The Russian Discourses on the New and the Old in Europe

Russia does not seem to belong to either “Old” or “New” Europe, which warrants some degree of intellectual autonomy and reflectivity. In the Russian discourse, the meanings attributed to the New Europe concept look dispersed and variegated.

The first cleavage is caused by the clash between holistic and particularist views of the concept of Europe as such. One group of the conceptualizations of the New Europe sets more or less fixed geographic parameters for it. For many of the Russian commentators, the difference between the Old and the New Europe roughly coincides with the West-East gap in the continent1328. In this vein, this is the Old Europe that expands to embrace the New one1329.

This vision is differently articulated in two other concepts. One of them is an idea of “the second Europe” which is based on a temporal understanding of Europe’s construction, since it presupposes that the less developed countries ought to catch up the leaders. The concept of “a different Europe” contains a much more pronounced identity-based component and is grounded in the rediscovering of a “non-western Europe”, to which Russia definitely belongs1330.

In contrast, some of Russian analysts attribute the concept of the New Europe to the whole continent. The New Europe is viewed as a common EU-Russian project1331 which points to the Russian subjectivity as a “New European” actor.

In principle, the division of Europe into two blocks may correspond to the Russian interests, due to the fact that it leaves much more room to individual bargaining on a traditional state-to-state basis, instead of troublesome Moscow – Brussels communication. By and large, usually Russia’s relations with national leaders are better than with the EU top-level bureaucracy. This is of course not an issue of choosing between the EU and its nation members, but of finding a proper balance between these two strategies. Russia seems to more heavily rely upon the lobbying of certain solutions through individual member states, especially having faced the EU intransigence. The case in point could be Russia’s intense communications with Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain on the visa issues, despite an obvious fact that the entire immigration policy falls into the sphere of EU-level joint competence.

The second cleavage has to do with articulating Russia’s sympathies to either of two Europes. Again, there is no unanimity among Russian foreign policy experts. One group of opinion- and policymakers is distrustful to France and Germany due to their ambitions to monopolize the European identity. In a revealing logic of Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the Federation Council, Russia has managed to deal directly with the United States and thus avoided being fooled by the Germans and the French1332. It is also claimed that “at her western borders Russia needs free and developed partners, not the aggressive Franco-German monster”1333. Geopolitically, Russia’s sympathies to the “New Europe” might be directly linked with the state of Russia-US cooperation.

There are also strong cultural underpinnings of Russia’s critical attitudes toward Germany and France. In the interpretation of many of Russian scholars, these two pivots of what is considered to be an “Old Europe” embody the growing self-denial of the national interests and identities, a tendency dating back to the end of the Second World War and the American military preponderance all across Western Europe. Russia seems to denote what Europe itself seems to be proud of – both refusal of national egos and the valorization of supranational integration.

Russia’s Perceptions of the Eastern and Central Europe

Criticism of France and Germany is complemented by perceiving Warsaw and Vilnius as taking at certain occurrences (the “Kaliningrad puzzle” included) more pro-Russian stand(s) than other EU’s members and the EU itself. By the same token, it might be assumed that the direct neighborhood may be considered as an important resource to be exploited through a variety of trans-border arrangements. In particular, Andrey Zagorskii deems that Russia has to take advantage of Polish eagerness to become Moscow’s defender in the EU1334. There were some attempts to welcome the Visegrad group as an institution able to plug into the Russian concept of all-European security1335, a vision which is fully compatible with the Visegrad group’s self-perception as a co-maker of the EU Eastern European policy.

The attraction of the former Soviet / socialist countries might also be grounded in the Russia’s possibilities to influence their policies. It is clear that Russia has more chances to have an impact the domestic developments within Latvia or Lithuania than to change the way the policy is being molded in France and Germany. The perspectives of Russia as a power being in a position to have its say in the shaping of policies pursued by the Baltic countries are quite discernible in the Russian discourse1336.

The Baltic countries could be featured as countries that might constitute the backbone of Russia’s stable relations with NATO in the sense that NATO is expected to be appreciative of Russia’s tolerance of the Baltic states’ membership. In the meantime, the accession of the three Baltic states to NATO is used within the discursive framework of de-problematization of Russia’s relations with NATO. This logic is split into a number of arguments. The first is that the Baltic states debilitate NATO and make its operational management much harder. Secondly, it is argued that NATO, by accepting the Baltic states, has voluntarily displayed the absence of strict standards of membership. Thirdly, some of the Russian commentators deploy the accession issue in a purely commercial context presuming that the Baltic states are motivated by “making money” on providing some service to the Alliance. It is emblematic that all three arguments are ostensibly excusive of Russia’s tranquility to the NATO enlargement: “the block which is unable and unwilling to fight, and besides is fragmented intrinsically, does not represent any threat to Russia”1337.

It is also unclear whether the labeling of the Baltic countries as “pro-American” is a negative attestation of their credentials in the eyes of the Russian opinion makers. There are voices in Russia that support the U.S. presence in Europe as a counter-balance of the German hegemony and the French independence in security issues1338.
Yet on the other hand, the mistrust to Germany and France is in no way conducive to idealization of smaller countries. There is a tendency to represent the “New Europe”’ as composed of countries that are trouble-makers for both Russia and the EU itself. In the Russian media, the accession of former socialist countries to the EU in 2004 was repeatedly depicted as an “invasion” which ought to stimulate the growth of prices in the EU and threaten the European agriculture1339. “Europe became larger and poorer”1340, - this headline of one of Russia’s newspapers duly reflects the state of mind among many of opinion makers in Moscow.

Security issues are also actualized. In spring 2004, when the three Baltic republics celebrated their double accession to both EU and NATO, the Russian media was full of stories fingering at possible deployment of NATO armed forces at close vicinity of Russia’s westernmost territories and the probable threat which might be caused by AWACS military jets. The “war of words” has reached its apex in the decision of Riga’s authorities to bar Dmitry Rogozin, a former presidential envoy and a high ranking State Duma member, from Latvia1341.

In continuing this way of accusatory and admonitory reasoning, the EU newcomers are gloatingly depicted as “America’s fifth column in Europe”1342. The heart of today’s Europe is to be found in the United States1343 which stimulates a sort of bi-centrism through clashing the “New” and the “Old” Europe with each other. Instead of speaking of a New Europe, some of Russian analysts deem, it is time to speak of “New Atlanticism”1344. “Congratulate Adamkus and then America”1345, - this is how some of the Russian policy commentators assessed the results of 2004 presidential election in Lithuania. It is in this vein that Russia assesses the new activism of countries like Estonia in the Caucasus, the area considered as laying in the sphere of Russia’s vital interests.

Concomitantly, Moscow tends to suspect the «New Europe» countries of undermining the Russian positions1346, which resonates quite well with the opinions of some European policy analysis that “three Baltic republics and Poland will definitely turn into a complicating factor in the EU-Russia relations. Nevertheless, the political elites of France and Germany willing to keep working with Russia won’t allow the small countries to significantly spoil the work done before”1347. In 2003 Sergey Glaziev and Dmitry Rogozin, two leaders of “Rodina" party, in highly indicative manner suggested that Russia has to threaten Lithuania by raising territorial claims and refusing to ratify the bilateral border treaty1348. In the Russian media, the coverage of the post-accession period of the Baltic States is full of stories describing the “vodka tourism”, gasoline smuggling, etc1349. The resolution of the Lithuanian parliament of September 2004 banning the perspectives of visa-free transit travel of Russian citizens to and from Kaliningrad oblast has exacerbated the Russian criticism of Vilnius.

Of course, both discursive streams (one critical of the “Old” Europe and another one skeptical about the “New” Europe) could be challenged. Thus, some of Russian experts – like Yurii Borko1350 or Vladimir Shemyatenkov – think that Russia has to negotiate cases like Kaliningrad with the “Old Europe”. Their reasoning is quite compelling – in global issues Russia is politically close to the Paris – Berlin nexus, since these are basically Germany and France that are inclined to frame the EU – Russia relations strategically, with long-term commitments from both sides. Within the Russian academic community, there are some voices assuming that the Russian-German alliance is the key factor of all-European stability1351. Stanislav Belkovskii, an influential policy analyst, argues that Russia naturally and organically gravitates to the Berlin – Paris nexus since these two countries are committed to the preservation of traditional Christian values which Russia overwhelmingly shares1352. This approach is shared by Alexander Dugin who treats the French-German Europe as a historical chance for Russia to provide its security: “we have no right to miss this opportunity and plug into this process at any conditions”. In this reasoning, Russia is to offer herself as a logical extension of Paris – Berlin alliance to the east. “It is in this sense that the Russian patriots can proclaim: To Europe!1353”.

Belkovskii’s and Dugin’s passionate leaning toward the French – German “couple” is an indication of Russia’s desperate search for European subjectivity which is ultimately a pre-condition for Russia’s own self-assertion both vis-à-vis and within Europe. Recreation of what could be called “a great continental family” (sometimes geographically extended to Madrid – Paris – Rome – Berlin – Madrid – Moscow – Delhi – Tokyo imaginable axis) turns into a part of Russian anti-globalist community1354. Rediscovering Europe as an interlocutor, an agent and an actor is a part of regaining Russia’s own subjectivity. The absence of Europe as a world power (or its substitution by a sort of post-Europe) frightens Russia and makes her feel uncomfortable. The dispersion of subjectivity appears to be more painful than dealing with powerful Europe. This is from this interpretative angle that one has to understand both disdain of “post-Europeanness” and, vice versa, enthusiastic discovery of certain degree of vitality in the “Old” European nations. Some of Russian analysts are implicitly sympathetic to the “aging” Europe (an equivalent of the “Old” one) and put its hopes in its “rejuvenation” as a direct effect of the enlargement1355.


Russia’s European discourse confronts a number of challenges. The first one is whether to accept the EU as a viable and full-fledged international actor, or keep adhering to more traditional state-to-state relations. A natural Russia’s strategy – when facing the EU intransigency – would be to lobby certain solutions through individual states. The case in point is Russia’s communication with Germany, Italy, France and the Great Britain concerning the visa issues, though the immigration policy falls into a sphere of the EU-level competence.

The second challenge is the degree of the EU strength that Russia can allow herself to admit. The feeling of denied subjectivity in the European affairs marks a point of bifurcation for the Russian discourse. One possible type of reaction to that is the accentuation of the European weakness. Perceptions of some segments within the Russian political elites are marked by a denial of the Europe's attraction to Russia and presenting the EU as an exhausted entity lacking political will and an identity of its own1356. Some of Russian analysts jump to overgeneralizations, asserting that “Europe is dying… It is a purely virtual notion, a gigantic dead museum… The degeneration of the European idea is shocking”1357. “Europe is an image of the past century, it is a remembrance… Europe is reminiscent of an aged hypocrite and a coquette which conceals the smell of putrefaction”1358.

The discourse focusing on the European weakness leads to a rather interesting twist in the reasoning of some of the Russian thinkers who conclude that the New European Project could have been implemented by Russia itself. This is at this point that the othering of both patterns of Europe leads to discursive construction of Russia itself. “Russia’s relations with the current Europe are not geographic but temporal” in the sense that Russia is imagined as a “real” New Europe, a heritor of all the positivity of the centuries-long European culture. On a different occasion, this reasoning has been transformed into a clear sympathy to the “Old Europe”: “It is hardly imaginable that 25 EU Commissioners would be capable of substituting a single Adenauer, de Gaulle or Kohl”1359. This type of discourse, almost unknown in Europe, displays some visible features of anti-integrationism. It not only makes Europe a poorly self-articulated entity with weak or even non-existent political will, but also questions the strategy of Russia’s integration with Europe1360.

A different discursive strategy reacting to the alleged EU attempts to denounce Russian subjectivity pertains to the actualization of the idea of “two empires” by stressing the “imperial” background of the European integrationist project as such. Naturally, this approach presupposes such a deconstruction of the European discourse that leaves much room for EU’s actorship. What is attractive in “two empires” model is a potential division of spheres of influence. For example, as Vadim Tsymburskii, a Russian political analyst, puts it, Europe was always reluctant to accept Russia’s presence in the Baltic – Black Sea area, but was in principle ready to tolerate Russia’s Occidental commitments1361. Some of Russian academics are positive about the developing of EU’s military capabilities1362. FilipKazin, in comparing the Russia’s policies advocated by Brussels and Warsaw gives clear preference to the EU since it is much less discriminative towards Russia which is treated as equal to other EU neighbours1363.

This reasoning leads to the second major challenge the Russian discourse is trying to tackled, namely that one of finding the right balance between stressing Russia’s specificity/exceptionality, on the one hand, and accentuating Russia’s “normality”/typicality. The question is, therefore, how specific the EU policies towards Russia are to be, and to what extent Russia may be put on the same ground as its neighbors.

The ED initiative seems to sharpen the debate on this issue. Polish experts seem to be selective in offering partnership arrangements to the eastern countries. Some of authors in Warsaw even try to make the procedure of “granting the EU’s neighbor state” status dependent upon a list of normative criteria1364.

In Filip Kazin's reasoning, «the Poles … are prone to strictly fix the 'weight categories' and put one of players (Russia. – A.M.) beyond the competition, while the EU bureaucracy wants to place everybody in the same stadium, have a training exercise and see what comes out of it»1365. There exists a wide spread feeling that Poland is reluctant to accept the common «rules of the game» offered by the EU to all its adjacent countries and is eager to distinguish Ukraine (and potentially Moldova and Belarus) from all eastern neighbors1366.

The menu of Russian choices appears to be rather rich. The first option would be to take a “wait-and-see” stance resembling the Russian version of “Euro-skepticism”. Its gist is the de-problematization of both the EU and NATO enlargements grounded in the assumption that the bigger are the unions, the less manageable they are to become.

The second option would be to transcend the “Old – New Europe” debate either by posing as a “real Europe” (in a milder variant – as an organic part of proper Europe, along with Ukraine and Belarus), or by substituting it by “true – false” conceptualization.

The third option might be found in getting involved in the “New – Old Europe” debate by prioritizing Russia’s relations with either part of this dichotomy. Russia’s pro-American stand would certainly bring Russia closer to supporting the “New Europe” concept, while the preponderance of anti-American attitudes is to reverse this trend.

However, the Russian policy faces an uneasy dilemma of choosing one of two different interpretations of the “New – Old Europe” constellation. One reading would be to acknowledge that it is the EU that spoils small countries that fall victims of the Union’s enlargement. An alternative option would be to shoulder responsibility for degenerating relations with the EU to Russia’s small neighbours that have succeeded in imposing their policies/visions upon Brussels.

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