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Russia shows composure towards EU accession

Russia’s president claims that he has never been against the economic integration of neighboring countries into the EU. History shows the opposite. Serenity is to be taken with caution.

At the economic forum in St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin made a keynote speech in which he spoke of the decline of the West.

Grigory Sysoev / Imago

The message sounded somewhat surprising with this clarity: No, Russia has nothing against Ukraine’s membership of the European Union, said Russian President Vladimir Putin at the economic forum in St. Petersburg in mid-June when asked how Moscow was about granting candidate status intend to deal with Kyiv. The EU is not a military organization, not a military-political bloc like NATO. It is the sovereign decision of each country whether it wants to join an economic community or not. “We have always said: We have nothing against it. Our position here is consistent, understandable.”

Just an economic alliance?

Rarely before has Russia made such clear statements about EU association or even membership of states that it actually sees in its sphere of influence for historical and political reasons. During the negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian delegations on a peace agreement in Istanbul in March and April, the Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky unexpectedly announced EU membership for Ukraine as part of an agreement to end the war and settle the conflicts over Donbass and Crimea accepted. Positive signals also came from the Kremlin.

But as early as May, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clearly disagreed. Due to the arms deliveries and the statement by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell that the fate of Ukraine will be decided on the battlefield, there are hardly any differences between the EU and NATO. That is why Russia can no longer agree to an EU perspective for Ukraine, diplomats decided.

In any case, there can be no talk of a consistent stance – is the EU now a purely economic alliance that poses no threat to Russia, or is it a political-military opponent? Putin’s demonstrative composure should be treated with caution. It is full of contradictions and also contains something condescending.

“Coalition of the West” against Russia

On the one hand, in his appearance in St. Petersburg, Putin asked himself what the EU actually had to offer the Ukrainian economy. This is completely dependent on subsidies, a revival of the once glorious aircraft, shipbuilding and electronics industry will hardly be in the interest of the EU members. The Ukraine will definitely become a kind of “semi-colony”. That also sounded cynical because Russia itself is currently deliberately destroying Ukraine’s economic foundations.

On the other hand, Putin denies the political and military weight of the EU when he describes it exclusively as an economic association. This attitude is nothing new. The Russian leadership has never really taken the EU seriously as an independent political actor, neither in the past nor now. It is described as a heterogeneous bunch, even as a pure appendage of the USA. Economically and politically, the Russian leadership sees the EU – and the West in general – in decline.

At the same time, a few days ago, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared the West to Hitler’s Germany. Together, the EU and NATO are forging an anti-Russian coalition to go to war against Russia, he claimed. This reminded him of how Hitler first “assembled” Western European states, and then campaigned with them against the Soviet Union in 1941.

Apart from the fact that Lavrov acts in his account as if the French, Belgians and Dutch had joined the German Reich more or less voluntarily and went into the eastern campaign in a coalition forged against the Soviet Union, in his words the EU suddenly becomes the obviously important one political-military opponents.

Suspicion about EU rapprochement

Putin’s position that Russia has never been against the economic integration of Ukraine and other countries into the EU is grotesque for another reason: in autumn 2013 it was the planned Ukrainian association agreement with the EU that the Kremlin perceived as a threat to its interests and which he desperately wanted to dissuade the then President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. At the time, it wasn’t about NATO at all. Yanukovych’s concession triggered the protests of disappointed pro-European Ukrainians on Kiev’s Maidan (“Euromaidan”) – and after months of escalation the coup of February 2014 with all its tragic consequences.

The Kremlin also always reacted with the greatest suspicion towards other former Soviet republics that were striving for economic rapprochement with the EU. His goal is to position the Eurasian Economic Union as a counterpart to the EU in a space dominated by Russia. Even the enlargement of the EU to include the states of East-Central and South-Eastern Europe bothered Moscow. Fifteen years ago, Putin said that Russia was not consulted enough when it came to the admission of Romania and Bulgaria.

After the East-West rift in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea and Russia’s meddling in Ukraine, not only did the EU-Russia summits come to an end, one of which even took place once in the Far East, in Khabarovsk. In discussions about what was supposedly a mistake in the reorganization of Europe after 1989/91, EU expansion was also treated as a hegemonic project allegedly directed against Russia.

mockery of imminent demise

Today’s agitators go even further. Former President Dmitry Medvedev, once seen as particularly “Western,” in the wake of Ukraine’s aspirations, compared the EU to the Soviet Union, which set itself the goal of achieving communism and never achieved it. And what if the EU no longer exists until Ukraine meets the criteria for joining? he exulted on his Telegram channel. Regarding Moldova’s candidate status, he wrote that its membership would probably come about through a “Greater Romania”. The suspicion that Poland is already in the process of grabbing western Ukraine is also popular in Russia these days.

MP Andrei Klimov called the EU a prison courtyard; For its members, the Union is increasingly becoming a people’s prison in which they have to give up their traditional values, freedom of expression and prosperity. The EU is portrayed by functionaries as a dystopian forced community that betrayed European culture. Their real home is now Russia.

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