When Vladimir Putin was elected as the president of Russia in 1991, the majority of Russia saw this as a sign of hope for Russian and Western relations. They believed that Putin would finally be the one to forge the relationship that both Russia and the European Union had pledged to build (Gower, 2008). However, as Russia grew into a more authoritarian state, the Russian agenda transformed into primarily focusing on material benefits. As a result of the economic sanctions that the United States and their European allies placed on Russia after its conflict with Ukraine, Putin has been relatively transparent about a “war of values” with the West. An article by Allen Lynch claims that Russian-Western relations are formed by the ‘interaction’ of various political groups in the international arena (Lynch, 2015). Paul Flenley argues that the expansion of the EU into post-Soviet Union areas may have had the potential to benefit both and therefore, improve the relationship; however, he also acknowledged the potential for a clash (Flenley, 2008). William Wohlforth backs up the idea of an imminent clash as he describes Russia’s likeliness to expand; because the land in Eurasia is significantly flatter than that of Russia, this has produced a subliminal contest between both lands to “conquer or be conquered” (Neumann & Pouliot, 2011, p.106).
Relations between the West & Russia
A short while after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia began its pursuit for a stronger relationship with the West. Although an enhanced relationship may have been advantageous for both, Russia’s efforts at building a connection struggled due to a lack of common interests (Felyukina, 2017). Putin wanted to cultivate a foreign policy that focused on increasing the benefits Russia could receive through a relationship with the West and maintain their supremacy over post-Soviet states, however the Foreign Policy Concept of 1993 declared that Russia “would not pay for building the relationship by agreeing to unilateral compromises against its own interests” (Felyukina, 2017, p.781; Lynch, 2015). In 1997, the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) declared a mutual agreement between Russia and the EU to communicate about political issues; trade, justice, energy, etc. (Hadfield, 2008). In 2002, the EU created a policy for its new, former Soviet neighbours called the ‘New Neighbours Initiative’ in an effort to try an alleviate exclusion and a potential clash. In 2004 the initiative was changed to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the EU spread more towards the east. As the EU expanded even further in the direction of the post-Soviet nations, with Romania and Bulgaria joining the EU in 2007, it became a Black Sea power (Flenley, 2008). At the EU-Russia summit in 2003 there seemed to be significant progress made to enhance the relationship through the creation of the four ‘common European spaces’ policy; economic, external security; freedom, security and justice, and research, culture and education. This policy had the potential to heighten the level of cooperation between Russia and Europe, and also to integrate Russia to a much greater extent into the ways of the Western world (Gower, 2008). Because Russia had become weak after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it needed Europe as an allie (Stent, 2008). Following the foreign policy concept, Moscow was determined to highlight Russia’s desire to cooperate with Europe and that they could be depended on, but the Orange Revolution in 2004/2005 eradicated any potential partnership between Russia and the West. Russian authorities saw the rise of pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko as a result of the US and the EU pushing democracy on the East. For fear that the same ‘tactics’ would be used in Russia, and that the West was becoming more powerful, authorities in Russia enforced their own soft power. This lead to a boost in funding for existing services that can reach out to people such as the radio station ‘Voice of Russia’ and Compatriots Living Abroad, and the formation of new services like tv channel ‘Russia Today’ that is broadcast in English, Spanish and Arabic, and the Russian World Foundation. Felyukina’s article argues that Russia’s idea of soft power is a loose interpretation of the concept Joseph Nye originally developed, demonstrating noticeably similar aspects as Soviet propaganda. Putin refers to soft power as a means of reaching the goals of one’s foreign policy by using information and influence, not through military force (Felyukina, 2017). Neumann and Pouliot highlight the fact that throughout history, Russia’s actions often slip into repetitive patterns (Neumann & Pouliot, 2011).
Why the West lost Russia
When Russia was weak and vulnerable in the 1990s, Europe and the Western world were important allies to have, however when Russia regained its power and its position in the international arena, it was no longer dependant on the West. Russia transformed itself from a weak state, into one of the leading economic players in the world for the first time. After securing Russia’s position in the economic field, Putin then gave the Kremlin considerable control over the economy; combining politics and international economic activity (Stent, 2008). Russia’s economy thrived because of its energy resources; they became the “largest single supplier of oil” to the EU (Hadfield, 2008, p232). However, the EU made no attempt to build a partnership with Russia or to get involved with its energy resources. Because of this, both parties are independent of each other, with Russia essentially being the more powerful, and disregarded a potentially profitable partnership (Hadfield, 2008). This newfound power gave Russia the confidence to return to its confrontational manner towards the West. Despite having strong economic links, this behaviour damaged the already unstable relationship. Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov proclaimed that they ‘would never be part of new ‘‘holy alliances’’ against anybody’ (Stent, 2008, p.1090). Putin also established a new nationalistic outlook for Russia; one that focuses on Russia’s unparalleled power, renounces the Western idea of democracy and condemns the West for alleged ‘double standards’in their approach towards Russia (Stent, 2008). However the roles had already been reversed for the EU and Russia. Javier Solana claimed that cooperating with Russia and building a relationship was the “most important, most urgent, and most challenging task” that the EU had to confront in the twenty first century (Hadfield, 2008, p234).
Another element that was more than likely off putting for Russia was the creation of the Common Strategy (CS) in 1999 which defined the EU’s strategic intentions for an alliance with Russia. As this was developed before Russia’s economy had fully boomed and it was still a relatively weak state, the CS was mainly focused around the benefitting of the EU from the partnership, rather than mutual benefit. The EU aimed to use the CS as a way of reforming Russia and moulding it into a state with the same values as the EU, claiming it would help Russia to discover its European identity. The Russian developed a counterpart to the CS a year later called the Middle Term Strategy (MTS). Hadfield argues that this should have been a warning to the EU that Russia had been provoked by the CS and its content. Putin produced a strategy that kept Russia’s national interests and its reputation in the Western world as the main priority. In the MTS, Russia is described as a world power and one that is equal to the EU on the world stage (Hadfield, 2008). As Stent stated, this courageous stance arose from the success of Russia’s energy sector (Stent, 2008). This aggressiveness in Russian foreign policy meant that the likelihood of a Western-Russian was becoming almost unimaginable (Duncan, 2013). This was also a consequence of Putin’s desire for power. The indirect threat to absolute power in Putin’s regime would be likely to create hostility in Russians against the perpetrator (Lynch, 2015).
While the creation of a strategy that sharply bypassed Russian interests and the resurrection of Russia into a strong power once again may have caused some friction in EU-Russian relations, there was also the fear of a ‘colour revolution’. The Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine resulted in those countries electing presidents who support the idea of joining NATO. Russian officials suspected that Western governments would attempt to generate the same change of attitude in Russia. There has been speculation among scholars, such as Richard Pipes and Thomas Carothers, as to whether Putin genuinely believed there was an imminent risk of a colour, or if this claim was simply used as a way for Putin to reassert his dominance over Russia and stimulate a nationalist, or united approach against a fictitious threat. However, Gail Lapidus and Derek Averre believe that the revolutions did spark fear in the Russian government and that it left them with no choice but to oppose democratic movements. Stephen Blank refers to this fear as the point when the regime finally became conscious of its illegitimacy and vulnerability. Following the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, over 40 per cent of participants in a Public Opinion Foundation survey expected a coloured revolution would happen in Russia. While it is widely known that the Putin regime have fabricated threats in the past to boost the nationalist sentiment and support for their actions amongst the Russian public, however it is likely that the colour revolution was a legitimate threat (Duncan, 2013).
The West pushed Russia away. By treating Russia like the disobedient child of the family, the Western world destroyed any chance of forming and maintaining an amicable relationship with them. Instead, Western countries, and the EU continued to provoke Russia by creating the CS and essentially obstructing Russia from benefiting from the ‘strategic partnership’ which was undeniably going to aggravate the Putin regime. By visibly trying to change the way the state operates and enforce the Western way of living on an authoritarian regime, the West should have known this method would only result in a severing of ties. After Russia’s long history of conflict with so many nations, the Western world should have known better than to attempt to change Russia at such a pace and in such an obvious manner. From an objective viewpoint, it is understandable that Russia refuses to cooperate with the EU and connect with the West. Russia has been built upon a view of extreme nationalism and the pursuit of power. It is not a shock that they reject the EU and the West for trying to impose their views and ways on Russian civilisation, and reduce their position of power in the international arena. Russia no longer needs Europe as an allie. The immense population of Russia acts as a safeguard from external influences. Russia is vast enough to be “self-sufficient” and people do not need to travel abroad to get opportunities. Although Rose and Munro claim that as time goes on and the older generations of Russia pass on, it may be possible that the younger generations could change their views and accept a more ‘Westernised’ way of life, it is more likely that a Eurasian system would receive a warmer welcome (Rose & Munro, 2008).