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Does EU’s “border backyard” intersect Russia’s “Near Abroad”?

Key obstructions on the path of ENP

  • Fragmentized Union: It is more than obvious that the political union counting 28 member states could not be examined as a homogenous group. EU member states differ not only by their territory, the size of the population, economic development or the place on the international arena, but they also have different national interests, which is the prime driver of their activities in the international system and shapes their foreign policy objectives for the long term. Country specific national interests evidently produce distinctive attitudes and approaches towards accession oriented countries inside the Union. For instance, political support from Baltic states to their post-soviet counterparts such as Ukraine, Moldova or Georgia is rather than obvious, while for other member states for example for France and Germany increased closeness of the ENP countries to the EU, when they are not meeting prescribed standards, is relatively associated to dramatically raised socio-economic problems and illegal migration, however, they positively assess an overall conceptual framework of European Neighborhood Policy.
  • Unstable and drastically distinctive Neighborhood: EU’s Neighborhood is rather than unstable, with extensive historical experiences of non-democratic governments, cultural, religious and ethnical diversities initially contribute to the fragmentation of the neighborhood and stimulate political experiments. If southern countries struggle from extremely complex unsuccessful democratic transition processes, meanwhile Eastern ENP partners’ state is drastically exacerbated by hostile attempts of Russian Federation. There is also a huge gap between the ENP participants in terms of their aspirations and foreign policy objectives. Based on geopolitical realities the European Union is number one strategic ally for Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, considered as a guarantor of economic and political stability in light of the constant threat from Russian Federation. While, for example, Georgia’s counterparts’ aspirations in Caucasus Region are apparently distinctive. Whilst Armenia enjoys its membership in the Russia-led Eurasian Union, Azerbaijan with its significant energy resources has an opportunity for flexible policy both towards Russia and the Union and is facing no inevitable necessity to be depended on the Union in financial or any other terms. It is also true that ongoing state of ENP frustrates association oriented member states as it doesn’t necessarily guarantee final integration and stimulates approaches according to which enlargement perspective is rather than distant.
  • Technically complicated procedures and instrumental complexities: Another important challenge on ENP path is a technical complexity of procedures. ENP partner countries are rather distinct from already advanced member states. Reforming procedures initiated by the EU are technically complex and difficult for partner states which have recently started transformation process. Unstable political and economic environment, with multiple corruption incidents and infractions from stated agendas, exceedingly worsens the situation. In other words, EU is too demanding bureaucracy for partner countries which traditionally operate in unstable environment generally with undeveloped political institutions. EU is also not well-prepared to draw a flexible response to rapidly varying conditions, as its programs are initially designed for long-term transformation procedures which in fact require a stable environment.

EU’s unwilling rivalry with Russian Federation

Together with instrumental shortcomings and socio-economic problems in partner countries, ENP’s effective implementation is hampered by politically aggregated reasons, especially in the South-Eastern Neighborhood which is also informally referred as Russia’s “Near Abroad”. Russian Political Elite openly declares that influence over post-soviet space is initially important for the Russian Federation. The inclusion of Baltic States in the union after 2004 enlargement not only drew the EU close to Russia’s border but also to the hemisphere Russia is aspired to control. As Russian Federation’s number one political objective is to represent itself as a key player of international politics, it is obvious that winning rivalry with the EU and maintain its control over Post-Soviet Area is the case of status and prestige. Getting clear that EU’s bordering Backyard intersects Russia’s “Near Abroad”, Russian Federation is merrily playing a zero-sum game with the EU and apparently it turns out to be more equipped rotationally using both packages of the soft and the hard power instruments.

Together with aggressive military campaigns in Georgian and Ukraine inviting Post- Soviet states to join EU’s alternative Eurasian Customs Union. Accompanied with enormous energy resources, Russia is playing according to indeed well-premeditated agenda using EU’s Energy Dependence as a political leverage against the EU. Conflicts in Ukraine and Georgia demonstrated that Europe is not ready to be engaged in a full-scale rivalry with Russian Federation and apparently Union is not united regarding Russian phenomenon itself. Some member states perceive Russia as the strategic partner of the union while others openly announce readiness to support Post-Soviet countries integration in the EU, for not only demonstrating their will to fight for European interests but, as well try to defend their counterparts from Russian Aggression.

As a result, ENP partners are in a constant struggle to choose between Russia and the EU, between an immediate involvement in a Russia-led economic union or distant perspective of prosperous future, between simplified autocratic transitions and the long-term in-depth transformations procedures. IR and political sciences scholars are often asked to answer who is winning the rivalry? An aggressive policy and its illegitimate actions towards Post-soviet countries often tend the discussions in Russia’s favor. On the other hand EU’s soft power reserves also deserve eligible evaluation, besides the fragmentized opinions from member states and Russia’s assertive military threat aggravated by a distant membership perspective in the EU, Post-Soviet States are still standing strong demonstrating their immutable will to Euro-integration even under continued Russian occupation.