The difficult relationship between the European Union and Russia

Relations between the European Union and Russia seem close to a breaking point, even if the situation appears far from irremediable, as demonstrated by the conflicting statements of the Russian foreign minister, threatening against Brussels, and those of his spokesman, who has, in part, denials. The current state, which is very problematic, between the two sides, is due to the repressive response by the Russian police towards the demonstrations that took place in the squares of the Russian country by the opposition. The Union’s harsh criticism of the Kremlin has provoked a strategy by Moscow which aims to anticipate possible official moves by Brussels. To the concrete possibility that Europe wants to impose new sanctions on Russia, the Moscow government could counter with the total breakdown of diplomatic relations. The threat reveals Moscow’s state of absolute fear of sanctions that could affect key sectors for the Russian economy and highlights its diplomatic weakness, which follows an increasingly serious internal crisis. The possibility of a unilateral renunciation of relations with Europe appears as an extreme attempt to avoid an isolation that would be the result of new sanctions on the European side; this factor is also combined with the need to demonstrate international power and weight, which appear to be in decline, especially in the continental scenario. For Putin it appears essential to regain positions abroad to strengthen his position at home and this understanding could be compromised with an international condemnation not only in words, but pursued with concrete facts such as new sanctions, which would be added to those already present. In reality, the Russian threats have highlighted how the European institutions found themselves unprepared for Moscow’s reaction and reacted with concern but also with resentment towards the High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security of the Union, due to a contradictory conduct in the recent visit to the Russian capital. The criticism of the High Representative is justified for the lack of a more decisive attitude in the talks with the Russian foreign minister, which has made clear the perplexities about the assignment; however, without the Russian threats, probably these criticisms would not have emerged in such a clear way, to the point of determining the request for resignation by some European countries. Moreover, Putin’s threats have had the effect of an official European position aimed at averting the breakdown of diplomatic relations, a solution most desired by the German state. The result of the head of the Kremlin, however, should be provisional, it seems impossible, in fact that Europe limits its sentence to Russian repressions without following concrete facts, also due to the presence on the international scene of the new American president, who has claimed a greater role for the US in respect of rights. Coordination between Washington and Brussels cannot but pass for a condemnation of Moscow, but it is legitimate to think that at this juncture the White House is leaving the initiative to Europe, which must stabilize its positions of autonomy painstakingly acquired during the Trump presidency. Biden’s intention is to leave political autonomy to the Union in order to establish an equal relationship within the framework of collaboration and common defense, which, among others, has one of its main objectives in Russia. The European task will therefore be to maintain its firmness against Russian repression, without neglecting a diplomatic solution that is satisfactory for both sides, but which must not be subordinate to the threats from Moscow.

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