EU unlikely to congratulate United Russia.

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team. 

The United Russia party, the ruling political party supporting President Vladimir Putin, has swept to victory in the latest elections. The Central Election Commission declared on 20 September 2021, that United Russia had won almost 50% of the votes. In second place was the Communist Party, with less than 20%, and the newcomer, “New People” party, may be entering the parliament with just over 5% of the votes. Whilst these results show a small decline in support for United Russia, implying Mr Putin too, there is unlikely to be any change on the political landscape. Thus, there is also unlikely to be any change in the tensions between the European Union and its arch rival! 

Both Russia and the EU, and its Member States, are members of both the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). In economic terms, Russia is the EU’s fifth largest trade partner, representing 4.8% of the EU’s total trade in goods with the world in 2020. The EU is Russia’s biggest trade partner, accounting for 37.3% of the country’s total trade in goods. The EU is also the largest investor in Russia. In 2019, foreign direct investment (FDI) stock from the EU amounted to €311.4 billion (75% of total FDI in Russia), whilst Russia’s FDI stock in the EU was estimated at €136 billion (only 1% of total FDI). Nevertheless, despite the institutional and trade relations, tensions between Russia and the European Union have always existed, particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, and more recently, since the 2014 annexation of Crimea. 

In 2016, EU foreign ministers, through the EU Council, unanimously agreed on five principles guiding the European Union’s policy towards Russia. These principles included: The implementation of the Minsk agreement as the key condition for any substantial change in the EU’s stance towards Russia – The Minsk protocol was intended to halt fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine; The strengthening of relations with the EU’s Eastern Partners and other neighbours, in particular in Central Asia; Strengthening the resilience of the EU in areas such as energy security, hybrid threats, and strategic communication;  A need for selective engagement with Russia on issues of interest to the EU; and; The need to engage in people-to-people contacts and support Russian civil society. These principles were again reiterated in June 2021. 

Russia is a powerhouse on the global stage – It is vast in size and geographical reach. It is the European Union’s largest neighbour and also China’s. Furthermore, it has links with EU neighbourhood countries from the Eastern Partnership and Western Balkans countries. However, Russia’s engagement with Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova, and in Syria and Libya, have further aggravated tensions, and the Alexey Navalny affair, the Russian opposition leader now imprisoned in Russia after allegedly being poisoned by Russian agents, has only enforced a stronger aggressive stance between the two blocs. 

The European Parliament continues to adopt resolutions on the Russian Federation but without active, amicable discussions between the two parties there can be little hope of consensus building towards a stronger and more stable continent of Europe. Such dialogues are vital. Russia currently accounts for 26% of EU oil imports and 40% of EU gas imports. Russia depends on the lucrative energy markets of the EU with nearly two thirds of Russia’s oil exports, two thirds of its gas exports and almost half of its coal exports going to the EU, implying that the European Union is equally dependent on Russia. Should Russia find a new buyer, China for example, it may not show any loyalty to its condescending adversary. Energy exports are no doubt critical for Russia’s business model, representing 60% of its total exports, 40% of its budget revenue and 25% of its GDP, but equally European businesses and citizens will not support a European Union which risks their energy supplies because of the wrong tone taken by diplomats.

The EU responds to Russia’s aggression with hard-hitting sanctions, against individuals and economic restrictions. Rarely does the actions of the European Union have any effect on Russia. At the end of the day, the Russian Federation will not adopt the European Union’s imposed conditions of how it should behave – It is after all, not a Member State of the European Union.

With climate change, environmental issues, the pandemic, the human rights agenda, increasing terrorism and decreasing security, high on everyone’s agenda, it is time for constructive engagement on global common interests. – Any animosities should be left outside of the room. Collaboration is essential. Building on the knowledge base and technological innovations coming from both the European Union and from Russia is paramount in providing global sustainable solutions. Little can be gained from aggression between Europe’s two biggest entities. 

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