The EU-Russia summit revealed the emptiness at the core of the two political zones' "strategic partnership." The EU needs a new strategy in order to prevent a new Cold War with Russia, writes DW's Ingo Mannteufel.
It was one of the shortest EU-Russia summits - a little more than a three-hour exchange at a general level and without tangible bigger results. It's no surprise that relations between the European Union and Russia currently yield little. Ahead of the talks, EU Council President Herman van Rompuy said, "This summit is an opportunity for a genuine joint reflection on the nature and direction of the EU-Russia strategic partnership."
Brussels' outmoded perspective
The cause for this weakness in European-Russian relations does not stem from differences over visa regulations or fees for flights over Siberia. Also, the explosive developments in Ukraine are less the reason for tensions than the result of a deeper-seated problem that divide the EU and Russia now.
Putin is positioning Russia as a great power that understands itself as part of a comprehensive geopolitical power struggle in which the EU is also competing. This is also the context for Putin's domestic agenda. After the EU called Putin to task for years with reminders on European values, Putin is now turning the tables with his sharply conservative take on traditional morality. According to him, Europe's purportedly excessive liberality and tolerance for sexual minorities betray Christian-European values.
Russia's Eurasian Union versus the EU
In order to stand against the economic and political power centers of the EU, the US and China into the future, Russian foreign policy has increasingly turned to the post-Soviet region in recent years under Putin. The goal is creating a Eurasian Union centered on Russia that stands in competition to the EU's model of integration.
That's exactly why the situation in Ukraine has grown so explosive over the last year, because in Europe's second largest state by area, the two integration agendas are colliding. Ukraine will decide the fate of the Eurasian Union Putin is spurring on. It was naively optimistic of Brussels not to think that Putin would do everything in his power to stop Ukraine from entering into an association agreement with the EU.
It was also negligent of the EU to view Ukrainian President Yanukovych, with his authoritarian governing style, as a reliable partner for such an agreement while also failing to consider Russia's role in the broader political context.
Pragmatism over confrontation
For the EU, the result is not just a failed political strategy on Ukraine. Its relationship with Russia is now fraught with growing tensions and misunderstandings that increasingly contradict the proclaimed "strategic partnership." Meanwhile, an expanding group is calling for a more confrontational approach to Russia due to the country's handling of Syria, Ukraine and other issues.
But before a new Cold War emerges, which would likely have wide-ranging and unforeseen disadvantages for Europe and Russia, the EU should develop a new and more pragmatic foreign policy approach toward its neighbor to the east.
The European Union needs to redefine its strategic goals for the Eurasian region and take on Russia's challenge with the Eurasian Union. A strategy that accepts competition with Russia's Eurasian Union, while also using opportunities for cooperation with Russia within that framework, will ultimately be more successful than a confrontational strategy borne of disappointment.