5. Federal Level Views
The early 1990s witnessed a short-lived period of Russian power elites viewing the Soviet era as an unfortunate distortion in Russia’s centuries-old ‘western’ quest (Aalto 2003b: 259; Baranovsky 2002: 12-13). This relatively undifferentiated ‘westernist’ view, which has quite a lot in common with the early 1990s views in the Baltic states, was most closely associated with president Boris El’tsin’s foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev. Since then, Russia’s identity political soul-searching from the mid to late 1990s is well documented and includes such temporally coloured ideas as ‘near abroad’ policy directed at maintaining the ties between Russians in ‘Russia proper’ and those scattered throughout the Former Soviet Union (FSU) as a result of the Soviet era migration and the policies of re-settling peoples; ‘eurasianism’ both in its traditional-mythical and more contemporary forms; and ideas of a return to the derzhava of the Soviet Union, etc. (e.g. Smith 1999).
Here it is of note that with Vladimir Putin’s presidency, this soul-searching has resulted in a view of the EU as the most important source of modernisation for Russia, to aid the grander purpose of re-building its traditional great power status (Bordachev 2003: 31; Likhachev 2000). At the same time, Russian observers disagree among themselves as to what extent the Russians have developed a ‘correct’ idea of the contemporary processes transforming the relationship of ‘Europe’ and the EU. A major share of observers continue to express the view that the Russian elites still do not have a correct idea of the extent to which ‘Europe’ is becoming synonymous with the EU (e.g. Bordachev 2003: 51; Leshukov 2000: 38; Trenin 2000: 24, 35). However, it should be noted that Russia’s Middle-Term Strategy towards the EU (2000-2010) takes note of the ‘widening supranational powers of the EU bodies under the Amsterdam treaty (‘Russia…’), and that for example Russia’s Permanent Representative in the European Communities contends that the Russians are increasingly starting to adopt the view of the EU functioning as a ‘magnet’ for far-fetching integration efforts within the continent (Likhachev 2000: 116). The 1999-2003 Duma chairman Gennady Seleznev even takes note of the federalist tendencies in the Union, warning of how ‘the European Union is a very clever organisation that adopted all useful things from the Soviet Union’ (quoted in Baranovsky 2000: 25).
Whilst looking at the official Russian discussion in the new millennium, it is hard to avoid noticing how often references to some sort of a ‘historical chance’ in EU-Russian relations are made. Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov echoes well the dominant EU view in saying that ‘the history of Europe is a succession of evolving and disintegrating military-political alliances, the struggles between which led to confrontation and oftentimes also to wars on our continent’. Concomitantly, he is careful to stress that Russia and EU should now ‘think in strategic terms, showing concern about the future’ (Ivanov 2000: 107). And whilst commenting on the new Russian foreign orientation, he says that ‘perhaps never before in the history of Europe have there been so many opportunities for building a truly united democratic Europe without dividing lines’ (Ivanov 2001: 5). President Putin also refers to the unique opportunity offered by the new historical context whilst speaking to students of the Kaliningrad State University, in the enclave/exclave ceded to the Soviet Union by Germany as a result of WWII:
You surely remember very well the history of Königsberg and the history of Kaliningrad. Let me assure you that no one, except a few most foolish people, prepare a return to 1937, thinking of giving up the region and so on. Such ideas are not needed in Europe and therefore they have no future. This understanding is shared both in our country and in Europe. Indeed, the future is something completely different – unification (‘Vstrecha…’, 27 June 2003)
The accent on what promising prospects of ‘unification’ the evolvement of EU-Russian relations is opening up for the future does not, however, imply a similarly blind outward-orientedness as was in evidence in the euphoric times of the early 1990s. In his state of the nation address in May 2003, president Putin continues with his new pragmatic foreign policy that springs up from open acknowledgement of Russia’s transformation problems, and declares that ‘…real integration with Europe… of course is a complicated and long-term process. But this is our historical choice. It has been made’ (Putin 2003: 13-14). And, for help in alleviating Russia’s continuing problems, expectations towards the EU are very high. For example, that the EU started proceedings for recognising Russia’s market economy status in May 2002, connoted ‘principled’ and ‘moral-political’ significance that the Russian president also expects to materialise in concrete and measurable returns (‘Vystuplenie…’, 29 May 2002). In a word, the act of accepting Russia’s market economy status connoted an acknowledgement that Cold War era structures – referring to Russia’s forced isolation from economic integration in Europe despite its efforts to the contrary – are finally breaking. But interestingly enough, from Russia, similar statements as from the Baltic states – somewhat covertly admitting the baggage of ‘post-Soviet time’ (Aalto 2004b) – have been in short supply. Instead, Russia has in various connections declared itself as free from Cold War era chains and demanded the same from the contemporary EU.
The early 1990s Russian view of European space portrays it as an undifferentiated part of the ‘west’, which Russia attempted to approach as an equal partner. Somewhat similar views were heard at the same time from the Baltic states. However, whereas the Balts manifested a small state syndrome of having violently been cut off from ‘Europe’ and the ‘west’ for fifty years, in the Russian case at issue was a great power complex of having been excluded from the joint ordering of European and global affairs. And, as already implied above in the analysis along the time aspect, such very relative similarities between the Balts and Russia proved short-lived. Russian foreign policy makers and the intelligentsia soon started to develop more differentiated views of the ‘west’ and ‘Europe’, and of Russia’s position on that plane.
Out of the various ideas that the resultant, already mentioned identity political soul searching generated, here can be mentioned those which continue to have relevance in the Putin era. The Soviet nostalgia primarily applies to the gradually passing away elderly generations, and towards the late 1990s, the ‘near abroad’ policy also gradually ceased to be relevant in the Baltic, and thus, European direction (Aalto 2003c). But, eurasianism continues to carry relevance for understanding Russia’s views of European space. Eurasianism originates in nineteenth century Slavophilism. Its supporters include those who have long been out of highest political power, like the Communists; those who occasionally, in particular in the late 1990s, have seemed to manage to influence the political process, like representatives of the new Russian right (e.g. Aleksandr Dugin, Vladimir Zhirinovsky); those more or less ‘democratic statists’ appointed during president El’tsin’s rule (Smith 1999), whose power, though, has been shrinking during the Putin regime; and finally, those recruited to power in Putin’s Russia, have occasionally displayed some eurasianist colours too. This broad support base means that eurasianism on the whole is a very flexible, even ambiguous idea that can take several forms. Its basic nature was well captured by Dugin himself when commenting on the policies of the former Russian foreign minister and prime minister Yevgenii Primakov:
That some traces of Primakov’s policy have continued to surface in Putin’s Russia, speaks for the fact that eurasianist views are deeply embedded in the country. Russia’s 2000 Foreign Policy Concept refers to broadly understood eurasianism in the following manner: ‘a distinctive feature of Russian foreign policy is its balanced nature. This is predicated on its geopolitical position as a major Eurasian power, which requires an optimum mix of efforts in every direction’ (‘Foreign…’). Eurasianism also helps us to obtain an idea of how the CIS has maintained its place as a high priority in Russian foreign policy. But, it is concomitantly interesting to see how ‘Europe’ and the ‘EU’ have consistently climbed in terms of perceived importance, now almost equalling the importance attached to the CIS.
In the 1993 Foreign Policy Concept the CIS was mentioned as the first priority direction. ‘Europe’ was assigned only the fifth place after arms control issues and relations with the US, and was allocated relatively little space (Baranovsky 2002: 17). In the 2000 Foreign Policy Concept, relations with ‘European nations’ are mentioned in the second place. Under the ‘European’ heading we find more specific mentions of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Council of Europe (CE), and of the EU, which among these three is said to connote ‘key relevance’. President Putin’s speech in January 2001 on priorities for Russian diplomacy maintains the number two place for ‘Europe’, speaking of it as ‘traditionally a very important region for us’, although concomitantly asserting that ‘it would be wrong to gauge which is a higher priority to us: Europe or Asia’ (Putin 2001: 4).
Putin’s speech in July 2002 on ‘key tasks for Russian diplomacy’, for its part, reflects Russia’s joining of the then particularly hot, US-led ‘war on terrorism’, and mentions first global scope fora such as UN Security Council and relations with the US, then ‘European partners’, and Russia’s main task of ‘direct participation in building a unified economic area’ in the European direction. CIS is mentioned only after ‘Europe’, but once again the presentation ends with references to Russia’s geographic position, which makes it present ’in Europe and Asia, North and South’ (Putin 2002: 3). Finally, the 2003 state of the nation address mentions first the UN Security Council, then CIS, and ‘broad rapprochement and real integration with Europe’, including ‘strategic partnership with the European Union’ (Putin 2003: 12-14). The emerging overall picture of broadly eurasianist priorities – reflected in the idea of a balance between Europe/EU and CIS – is also evident in how foreign minister Igor Ivanov already in 2000 mentioned first these two, and only then Russia’s other priorities (Ivanov 2000: 5). The persisting prevalence of eurasianism in the Russian view of European space, and the resultant balance between the Europe/EU and CIS directions has several consequences of relevance here.
First, differently from the Balts, Russian foreign policy makers, as a rule, do not view the EU in terms of membership prospects. Russia’s Middle-Term Strategy towards the European Union (2000-2010) expresses very well this attitude in asserting that ‘partnership between Russia and the European Union will be based on the treaty relations, i.e. without an officially stated objective of Russia’s accession to or “association” with the EU’ (‘Russia’s…). Apart from the very few, isolated remarks referring to the long-term prospect of Russia’s EU membership, since the early 1990s, Russian foreign policy-making elite has viewed Russia’s place to be firmly outside the Union and has resisted all forms of ‘EU-association’ talk. Wordings such as ‘ties’ and ‘dialogue’ (‘Vystuplenie…’, 17 May 2001) are used to differentiate Russia from the smaller countries in line for membership.
Second, notions like ‘ties’ and ‘dialogue’ imply how the so-called ‘strategic partnership’ with the EU has become the western cornerstone of Russia’s multivector, broadly eurasianist policies. According to Russia’s permanent representative in the European Communities, Vassily Likhachev, the partnership is ‘comprehensive in nature, and deals with various, if important, pragmatic objectives’ (Likhachev 2003: 55). He manifests well the already familiar tendency among Russian foreign policy makers of recognising the developments within the Union’s space as having a global and regional extent, commenting that ‘our interests cannot but be influenced by the processes that unfold within the EU and symbolize its potential (introduction of the euro, expansion of membership, common security and defence policy, and others)’ (p. 60; see also Alekseev 2001: 41). Yet, although Russia recognises the manner in which EU space increasingly comes to border Russia’s own, clear limits to the EU-Russian ‘strategic partnership’ are concomitantly set. This is done in order to try to preserve its character as a partnership, rather than to let it transform into an asymmetrical expansion of EU space, as has taken place in the case of the widening EU accession process. Hence, Russia has accepted the Baltic states’ inclusion into EU space, but as regards the rest of the FSU, Russia’s EU strategy expresses opposition to ‘any possible attempts to hamper the economic integration in the CIS, in particular, through maintaining “special relations” with individual countries of the Commonwealth to the detriment of Russia’s interests’. Indeed, ‘the development of partnership with the EU should contribute to consolidating Russia’s role as a leading power in shaping up a new system of interstate political and economic relations in the CIS area’ (‘Russia’s…’). This idea of two mutually recognised and respected, ‘dialogic poles’ of regional and global politics in the shape of the Union and Russia, is clearly influenced by the ‘multipolarity’ thinking, which Russia declared it is seeking as a strategic goal in its 2000 Foreign Policy Concept, for the purpose of countering the US unipolar aspirations to dominance in world affairs (‘Foreign…’).
Third, in this light it becomes easily comprehensible why the prospects for a Common European Economic Space (CEES) have failed to materialise rapidly. The launching of the CEES was agreed in the EU-Russia summit in October 2001 on the basis of provisions for an eventual ‘free trade area’ in the EU-Russian Partnership and Co-operation (PCA) agreement, which entered into force in 1997. In the ensuing discussions and negotiations of possible models for the practical arranging of the CEES – e.g. by relying on the EEA, EFTA or EU-Switzerland experiences – the Russian policy makers have repeatedly raised their concern that ‘the most important task today is to prevent the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe that in the past came at a very high price to all parts of our continent’ (Gusarov 2002: 179). The goal of the CEES is declared to be more than a mere free trade area, encompassing ‘the four freedoms’ of the single market – goods, services, capital and labour. In practice, these goals would translate into Russia’s partial inclusion into the EU’s single market, and thus, into the feared ‘association’ of Russia with the EU. However, the several attempts at economic re-integration within the CIS area – including the Russian-Belarusian Union State project, and the most recent effort launched in September 2003 between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine – pose serious obstacles for a CEES if they are implemented. Although numerous other economic problems stand in the way too, it seems evident that at this plane Russia has to choose between the EU and its CIS partners (Vahl 2003).
On the whole, the consequences of eurasianism are crystallised in Russia’s self-declared ‘close outsider’ perspective vis-à-vis European integration (e.g. Alekseev 2001: 41), i.e. Russia’s perception of being located on the third circle of concentric EU order. Compared to the Balts, who as semi-insiders located on the second circle have already developed a relatively coherent idea of, and fear of, the federalist pressures within the EU, the Russian policy makers display clearly their lesser degree of integration with the EU centre. Regardless of the already noted comments by Gennady Seleznev on whether the EU is assuming a more federal form, the mainstream Russian views of the EU remain strongly intergovernmentalist. Only very rarely do they include any assumptions of the Union developing into a more federal direction in the near to mid term. This comes up inescapably in how Russian policy makers continue to attach relevance not only to Union bodies such as the Commission, but also to bilateral ties with various EU members, primarily the larges ones among them. As a Russian federal level policy maker comments:
If the European Commission assumes significant additional competencies, it is true that such a situation has some sort of an impact on the balance of the foreign policy orientation of the Russian Federation. But I think that for the upcoming few years, if not for a whole decade, the national factor in foreign policy undoubtedly remains, and contacts along the lines Moscow-Berlin, Moscow-Paris, Moscow-Rome, Warsaw, etc., will remain. They are necessary elements in the construction of foreign policy (Russian federal level policy maker, November 2002)
This may not at first sound entirely dissimilar from, for instance, Finnish ideas of how to spatially conceive of the Union. However, Igor Ivanov’s statement that ‘We regard all-round co-operation with the EU as one of the top priorities of our European policy’ (Ivanov 2000: 106; emphasis added) reveals a clear difference to north European countries like Finland and Sweden. For them, the EU is close to being the exclusive focus of European policy, and contacts with EU member states are almost by definition contacts within the EU context. For Russia, similar ‘europeanisation’ of foreign policy is not at issue. Russia takes the EU as a key pole of European politics, but concomitantly pays attention on the other ties and alignments of many EU member states, such as NATO membership and their relations with the US (e.g. Alekseev 2001: 37). Such a persistent Russian focus both on partnership with the EU centre, and on parallel special ties with pivotal EU members and European/Euro-Atlantic organisations, works to lend some support for the ongoing efforts to strengthen the Union’s subjectivity. However, this is done with an intergovernmentalist ‘great game’ bias that is considerably different from the views of those smaller northern countries who are more integrated with the Union. In the midst of the thus constructed grand game between the European/EU and Russian ‘centres’, one can find relatively numerous, but not always entirely consistently pursued proposals giving some support for the EU to promote its ‘north Europeanness’.
The Council on Foreign and Defence Policy (Sovet po vneshnei i oboronnoi politike, SVOP) used to be influential in the shaping of federal policy until the beginning of the new millennium (Pynnöniemi 2003: 22). In its special report ‘Russian interests in Northern Europe’, published in 2001, SVOP mentions Russia’s northwestern regions as enjoying the most peaceful border that Russia has anywhere. The report adopts predominantly an intergovernmental approach, and asserts that ‘today it is appropriate to pay the utmost attention to the further development of contacts and relations at the regional level, the most important Russian regions being those bordering on Finland and Norway’ (‘Russian interests…’). With regard to the Baltic states, already in its 1997 report on Russia and the Baltic states, SVOP proposed a more dialogic and geo-economically oriented approach towards them, viewing them as some sort of stepping-stone to European economic integration and markets in the context of EU enlargement to the Baltics. It was also vaguely hinted already then that the disputed status of the Russophone minorities in Estonia and Latvia in particular was slowly turning into an EU-Baltic issue rather than continuing to be a bilateral Russo-Baltic affair (Ozhobischev and Iurgens 2001: 70-3). Although this acknowledgement was only made in passing, and only slightly later became an aspect of Russia’s official policy (Aalto 2003c), in the same connection a much more surprising prospect was raised in the form of Russia’s EU membership: ‘Russia, as a European power (derzhava), could in the future view the prospects of closer co-operation with the EU, up to full membership in the Union’ (p. 74). It must be kept in mind here, though, that the view of SVOP of the EU, and of Russia’s membership prospect, focused somewhat short-sightedly mostly on economic co-operation, as is often typical of Russia’s views of the EU.
But as said, Russia’s strategy towards the European Union, which was submitted to the EU in late 1999, rejected any idea of membership or even of EU association. However, in speaking of the materialisation of the EU-Russian ‘strategic partnership’, it makes a positive comment on the participation of Russia’s regions in the process. It puts forth the often-quoted idea of Kaliningrad as a possible ‘pilot region’ within this process (e.g. Joenniemi et al. 2000; see below). On the whole, one can detect some potential in Russia’s views assigned to northern Europe as a special construction site of the EU-Russian ‘partnership’. However, the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov puts this potential into the broader strategic context in his column in the newsletter of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS): ‘solution to many problems of the Baltic Sea region is unthinkable outside the context of mainstream European processes’ (Ivanov 2001b).
In summary, from time to time Russian foreign policy makers single out north European locations such as Kaliningrad, the BSR, the Baltic states in the context of enlargement, and sometimes also for example the rather well-working Finnish-Russian border and the mostly unproblematic Finnish-Russian relations on the whole, as suitable and/or successful meetings grounds for the EU and Russia. However, meeting grounds of this kind are not taken to exhaust EU-Russian relations but rather complement the wider picture. Overall, Russian views of EU space in northern Europe have evolved considerably since the 1990s, and as these variously successful examples suggest, the space allotted for the EU is not fixed, but rather open-ended and almost constantly changing. However, it can be observed, though, how the limits set for EU involvement have gradually moved from the Baltic states towards Russia’s own borders and the CIS, thus recognising the EU’s space as increasingly wide in the Baltic Sea region. Yet, importantly, the CIS is still regarded as a space of Russian responsibility, and the gradually awakening acceptance of the expanding EU space in the wider north European region is made conditional upon the unfolding of the overall EU-Russian ‘strategic partnership’. These patterns are also reflected in Russia’s view of the Union’s geo-policies in northern Europe.