Russia and the European Union: the Posponed Partnership

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2021-65-5-14-27
N. Arbatova (,
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation

Received 12.02.2021.

Acknowledgements. The article was prepared within the project “Post-Crisis World Order: Challenges and Technologies, Competition and Cooperation” supported by the grant from Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation program for research projects in priority areas of scientific and technological development (Agreement 075-15-2020-783).

Abstract. The article is devoted to the analysis of the fundamental reasons that led to the crisis in relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union as well as relations between Russia and the West at large. The main attention is paid to both objective changes in international relations and subjective factors in the policies of Russia and the EU, that which predetermined the vector of evolution of their interaction. The article proposes a layer-by-layer analysis of these reasons, leading from a superficial perception of problems in depth to the origins of the current crisis. This method of analysis can be called the “matryoshka method”, when the main problem lies in the very depths of the phenomenon under study. In other words, the article proposes a “countdown” from the current crisis to the postbipolar start of cooperation between Russia and the European Union. Why did it all go wrong when it all started so well? And, finally, who is to blame for the failed partnership, and is it possible to get out of this deadlock? These and other questions are at the center of this article. The Ukraine conflict is widely perceived by the European Union and the West as whole as a turning point in their relations with the Russian Federation and the main reason of the deepest divide between them. However, this conflict is not so much the reason but rather the consequence of more profound contradictions between Russia and the West. These contradictions are revolving around the mutual misperceptions about the acceptable foundation of the post-bipolar European security and rivalry in the CIS space. The EU and NATO enlargement strategies presented by both institutions as two complementary processes raised Russia’s concerns about their intentions in the CIS region. But these contradictions did not appear from “the middle of nowhere”. They resulted from the uneven end of the bipolarity and mistakes made by the West and its institutions as well as miscalculations of the new Russian leadership. In the very centre of this “matryoshka doll” one can find the arguments explaining Russia’s historic convolutions on its way to Europe.

Keywords: Russia, European Union, USA, China, CIS, international relations, European security, Euro-Atlantic relations, EU and NATO enlargement, Ukrainian conflict, Caucasian crisis, peacekeeping operations, conflict


1. Arbatova N.K., ed. Otnosheniya Evrosoyuz–Rossiya i Ukrainskii krizis [The EU-Russia relations and the Ukraine crisis]. Moscow, IMEMO, 2014. 183 p. Available at: (accessed 05.02.2021).

2. Alexandrova-Arbatova N. The EU-Russia partnership: a new context. European Strategic Partnerships Observatory. Egmont-FRIDE, Policy brief 5, July 2012. Available at: (accessed 05.02.2021).

3. Eastern Partnership: Problems of Inplementation and Possible Consequences. Proceedings of the meeting of the Expert Council of the Federation Council Committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States. November 19, 2009. (In Russ.) Available at: (accessed 05.02.2021).

4. Rar A. Mnogie khotyat vernut’sya v kholodnuyu voinu [Many want to return to the Cold War]. Vzglyad, 02.04.2014. Available at: (accessed 05.02.2021).

5. Kearns J. Kissinger’s Cold War Lessons for the EU’s Eastern Partnership. ELN, February 19, 2014. Available at: (accessed 05.02.2021).

6. Schroeder called the expansion of NATO the reason for the return of Crimea to Russia. Kommersant, 17.01.2021. (In Russ.) Available at: (accessed 05/02/2021).

7. USA: Ukraine must choose between the EU and NATO. Rosbalt, 21.03.2009. (In Russ.) Available at: (accessed 05/02/2021).

8. Russia would react to NATO build-up near borders: minister. Reuters, 09.06.2014. Available at: (accessed 07.02.2021).

9. Croft A. NATO unlikely to grant Georgia step to membership: diplomats. Reuters, 20.06.2014. Available at: (accessed 07.02.2021).

10. Arbatova N.K. Natsional’nye interesy i vneshnyaya politika Rossii: evropeiskoe napravlenie (1991–1999) [National interests and foreign policy of Russia: European direction (1991–1999)]. Moscow, IMEMO, 2005. 185 p.

11. Bertram C. Why NATO must enlarge. NATO Review, March 1997, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 14-17. Available at: (accessed 07.02.2021).

12. Ehrke M. The European Union and the Post-Communist Sphere. Compass 2020. Available at: (accessed 10.02.2021).

13. “No Great Europe without Russia-No Great Russia without Europe”. Report of the Commission for the Greater Europe. Helsinki, Suomen kansallisviestinta Oy, 1994 (Gummerus Printing 1995). 121 p.

14. Kozyrev A. Rossiya fakticheski v odinochku neset bremya real’nogo mirotvorchestva v konfliktakh po perimetru svoikh granits [Russia actually alone bears the burden of real peacekeeping in conflicts along the perimeter of its borders]. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 22.09.1993. Available at: (accessed 10.02.2021).

15. When worlds collided. The Guardian, 07.01.2006. Available at: (accessed 10.02.2021).

16. Westad O.A. The Cold War and America’s Delusion of Victory. New York Times, 28.08.2017. Available at: (accessed 10.02.2021).

17. Mandelbaum M. Introduction: Russian Foreign Policy in Historical Perspective. Council on Foreign Relations. Available at: (accessed 10.02.2021).

18. Freedman L. The new Great Politics. Russia and the West: The Twenty First Century Security Environment. Arbatov A., Kaiser K., Legvold R., ed. Armonk, New York, Sharpe, 1999, pp. 21-43.

19. Speech at Meeting with German Political, Parliamentary and Civic Leaders. June 5, 2008. Berlin. Available at: (accessed 11.02.2021).

20. Speech by Russian President Boris Yeltsin at a meeting to the UN Security Council 31.01.1992. (In Russ.) Available at: (accessed 11.02.2021).

21. Arbatov A. Moscow and Munich: A New Framework for Russian Domestic and Foreign Policies. Working Papers no. 3, Moscow, Carnegie Moscow Center, 2007. 27 p.

22. Arbatov A. Bezopasnost’: rossiiskii vybor [Security: the Russian choice]. Moscow, EPItsentr, 1999. 526 p.

23. Hegel. Filosofiya istorii. Sochineniya [Philosophy of history. Essays]. T. VIII, Moscow-Leningrad, Gosudarstvennoe sotsial’no-ekonomicheskoe izdatel’stvo (Sotsekgiz), 1935. 468 p.

24. Baburin S.N. Territoriya gosudarstva. Pravovye i geopoliticheskie problem [State territory. Legal and geopolitical issues]. Moscow, Izd-vo MGU, 1997. 477 p.

25. Kissinger Henry. Diplomacy. New York, Simon & Shuster, 1994. 912 p.

26. Arbatova N. Evropeiskii mayatnik Rossii [The European pendulum of Russia]. Nezavisimaya gazeta, 25.11.2020. Available at: (accessed 11.02.2021).

27. Speech by Vladimir Putin at the Davos forum. Vesti, 27.01.2021. (In Russ.) Available at: (accessed 11.02.2021).

Registered in System SCIENCE INDEX

For citation:
Arbatova N. Russia and the European Union: the Posponed Partnership. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2021, vol. 65, no. 5, pp. 14-27.

Comments (0)

No comments

Add comment






Dear authors! Please note that in the VAK List of peer-reviewed scientific journals, in which the main scientific results of dissertations for the degree of candidate and doctor of sciences should be published for the “MEMO Journal” the following specialties are recorded:
economic sciences:
5.2.5. World Economy.
5.2.1. Economic Theory
5.2.3. Regional and Branch Economics
political sciences:
5.5.4. International Relations
5.5.1. History and Theory of Politics
5.5.2. Political Institutions, Processes, Technologies


Current Issue
2024, vol. 68, No. 5
Topical Themes of the Issue:
  • Are There Any Ways to Break Through the Korean Nuclear Impasse?
  • Contemporary U.S. Taiwan Policy: Balancing on the Edge
  • The Gulf Monarchies’ Vision of the Global Order Transformations and the Russian Place in It
  • At Post-Soviet Space
Submit an Article
The Editorial Board invites authors to write analytical articles on the following topics:
  • changes in the processes of globalization in modern conditions
  • formation of the new world order
  • shifts in civilization at the stage of transition to a digital society

The editors are also interested in publishing synthesis articles / scientific reviews revealing the main trends in the development of certain regions of the world - Latin America, Africa, South Asia, etc.