Cathal Kerins argues that the most sensible solution to resolving the conflicts in Ukraine, the Balkans, Syria, the Middle East and North Africa is by bringing about an improvement in Russo-European relations and perhaps establishing a working relationship.
For too long has there been a tension between Russia and Europe. This was largely due to the communist nature of the USSR. However, the USSR no longer exists, and Russia has taken a step towards a market economy. True, it is an oligarchy with an effective dictator, but it cannot be denied that a step was taken in the right direction in 1991.
In response to this positive step by Russia, the West bombed its Serbian allies, invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and the EU expanded into former Soviet countries in what Russia continues to perceive as its ‘sphere of influence’. Naturally, this was not well received by many Russians, even those who welcomed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The old guard of the Soviet Union, who surprisingly did not simply disappear and rejoice at the Soviet fall of grace seized on the actions to illustrate to the public that the West was not its friends after all.
However, this old guard has greyed. It is soon to be replaced by a younger generation with less animosity and suspicion of the West. Some Russians even cheered the election of President Donald Trump. It is not unfeasible for Russia to take another small step in the future after President Vladimir Putin, who is approaching 70 years old, departs. Therefore, Europe should focus on trying to kindle a dialogue with Russia and foster common interests where we can work together for shared goals.
No easy feat
Russia feels betrayed by the West due to the EU expansion into what it sees as its sphere of influence. This was made worse by the NATO bombing of Serbia in the 1990s which Russia opposed. Additionally, the war in Ukraine only cements Russian fears that it is being encroached on by the West. The US’s presence on Russian borders in Afghanistan and below its caucuses inflames the sense of encirclement felt by Moscow who has turned to China and Iran. However, the EU, too, is perturbed by the actions of the Bear of the East. Russian military action in Syria and the Ukraine as well as cyber-attacks on EU members states and assassination attempts on EU territory mean that Russia is acting belligerently.
In this context, Europe must be strong to fend off Moscow’s interference and discourage them from violating EU states and partners. But we must also recognize that this alone will not comprehensively resolve the differences between the EU and Russia. Ultimately, the only viable long-term option is a working relationship with Moscow where we can work together as global partners and resolve differences without resorting to nefarious Cold War tactics or proxy wars, especially considering that Russia still supplies Europe with vast amounts of oil and gas. This is the only scenario which will ensure lasting peace and increased human understanding and solidarity.
As such, the EU should make every effort to defend its integrity, all while trying to turn its aggressor into a partner. Such a strategic partnership would serve to increase Europe’s ability to bring about peace in the Balkans, Ukraine, Syria, and further afield.