The mistrust about the Eastern Partnership
The political crisis in Ukraine threatens the strategic relationship not only between UE and Ukraine, but also between EU and Russia.
Deep mistrust between Russia and European Union derives from the Eastern Partnership finality. According to a cable revealed from WIKILEAKS, the Eastern Partnership “aims to counter a resurgent Russia” by having a “pro-western buffer zone”. “The prospect of free trade zone and visa-free travel to the EU, the Eastern Partnership can spur the reforms needed for eventual membership and stem growing Russian influence”. The Eastern Partnership would “energize EU engagement with eastern neighbors in the face of enlargement fatigue”. The Eastern Partnership has also the support of the United States as they look “for ways to enhance western influence beyond NATO’s eastern borders”.
The cable proves that Eastern Partnership finality, UE enlargement and finally NATO interests are strongly intertwined, and this can only enhance mistrust from the Russian side and pro-Russian populations within Ukraine.
The interest of EU and Ukraine
If the EU still harbours the strategic ambition to build a European political identity, it must be able independently to identify and defend its interests in the multipolar world that is taking shape. A realistic analysis of its interests suggests the following principle:
Renunciation of the enlargement of the EU and the Atlantic Alliance into Russia’s ‘near abroad’ is the way to increase regional stability and improve relations with Russia. With stable frontiers, the EU would put an end to its dilution, which is growing with successive enlargements. Its internal cohesion and also its identity, which is crucial for popular support, would be strengthened by this.
With enlargement to Ukraine, the EU would find itself facing the identity question between Russia and Ukraine. The pursuit of enlargement is today causing the EU to import the geopolitical fault-lines resulting from the historical frontiers which mark the Eurasian continent. This weakens the EU’s coherence and identity and increases the risks of dilution.
Leaving aside the Balkans, the negotiation of political alternatives to the prospect of enlargement would provide the occasion for the EU to fix its frontiers in order to preserve its cohesion, to strengthen its identity and facilitate the identification of its interests. Membership of the Atlantic Alliance has hitherto filled the role of ‘anteroom’ to the EU. The freezing of the Atlantic Alliance’s enlargement to Ukraine also enables the EU’s own project there to be halted. It is in the Union’s interest to reduce Russia’s perception of encirclement.
A deepening of relations with Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Southern Caucasus and Central Asia can only last if Russia’s interests in the European puzzle are taken into account. Relations between Ukraine and the EU could be oriented in the direction of a ‘bridge’ rather than a ‘front’ against Russia. Russia firmly intends to remain a powerful geopolitical pole. It holds one of the keys to security on the European continent and will remain a major energy supplier to the EU whatever form diversification may take. An energy, industrial and political alliance with Russia is in the interest of the EU in extending its hinterland towards ‘Euro- Siberia’.
In the end, ambivalence about the prospect of EU enlargement to Ukraine can only foster mistrust between EU Members States themselves and modify the geopolitical balance between France and Germany within EU with a transfer of the center of geopolitical gravity of the European project to the East, at the expense of EU Southern Member States.
Reformulation of the Eastern Partnership
The Eastern Partnership needs therefore to be reformulated to remove distrust from the Ukrainian and Russian side. A three-way negotiation between EU, Ukraine and Russia is the best formula for success.
In parallel to a reformulation of the Eastern Partnership, the negotiation of a new Eurasian security architecture preserving Russia’s security interests would facilitate the stabilization of the EU’s continental hinterland. It would also be a favorable opportunity for the EU to make itself a centre of equilibrium alongside Russia which would constitute a useful counter-weight against other global powers.