Impact of rapprochement between EU and Russia on Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, OP-ED



The improvement of the dialogue between the EU and Russia can have a significant impact on the geopolitical preferences of the public in Moldova and the attractiveness of the idea of combining the European course and the Eurasian one...


Dionis Cenuşa

The divergences between the European Union and Russia gradually lose a part of the inner intensity even if the number of victims caused by the military confrontations in Syria and Ukraine through Russia’s complicity increases uninterruptedly (about half a million and, respectively over 10,000 dead persons). A number of non-Euroskeptical European leaders pronounced in favor of restoring the relations with Russia. Such approaches can seem absurd because the aggressiveness of the Russian authorities does not stop. On the contrary, the Russian steps are repeatedly proven in the case of the interferences in the Western elections, collapse of the civil plane MH17, poisoning with chemical substances of members of the Skripal family and, more recently, ordering of the murder of Russian journalist Arcady Babchenko. The European leaders are trying if not to place them on the frontline than at least to balance them with the renewal of the dialogue on other important economic and security files.

The idea of reestablishing the cooperation with Russia is supported by France and Germany, which are joined by the European Commission. The motivations of these players are different, but the main factor that strengthens a common position derives from the decisions adopted by the administration of the U.S. President Donald Trump. On the one hand, this decided that the United States will withdraw from the nuclear agreement concerning Iran (White House, May 8, 2018) by fully ignoring the requests formulated by the European partners that want to save the agreement. On the other hand, in the same dissonant tone President Trump imposed a more restrictive commercial regime (White House, May 31, 2018), starting with June 1, 2018, on steel and aluminum imports from the EU (worth about €6 billion in 2017). Both the Iranian case and the commercial protectionism signal new ruptures in the EU – U.S, partnership that risks striking the European economic interests and further. The state of affairs can worsen if the reintroduction of American sanctions against Iran affect the European companies and if the U.S. intensify the restrictions against the EU, which promises a proportionate response (European Commission, May 31, 2018). Such developments place the transatlantic dialogue before unprecedented shocks, with consequences that can easily affect other areas of the bilateral cooperation.

The damaging of the transatlantic environment implies risks to the common policies of the U.S. and the EU, including the countries of the Eastern Partnership, where reforms benefit from the complementariness of the U.S. and European efforts. The perturbation of the American-European cooperation can last until the next presidential elections in the U.S., of 2020. The effects of these can be bearable for each of the sides. For such countries as Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova, such turmoil will imply political and economic costs, given the importance of the concomitant strategic dialogue with the U.S. and the EU and the increased interdependence between the three countries and the European market.

The downs in the EU – U.S. relations facilitate the predisposing of the Europeans towards the East, where these look for Russia’s support to contribute to the conservation of the Iranian nuclear agreement and the relaunch of the political dialogue for settling the Syrian crisis, especially after the airstrikes launched in concert by the U.S., France and the UK at weapons facilities in Damask, a retaliatory measure for the alleged use of chemical weapons (Deutsche Welle, May 14, 2018).

The Europeans want to stop the destabilization in the Near East, which can determine, besides the global rise in fuel prices, also new waves of refugees. That’s why the unthawing of the communication with Russia, which is the most influential player in the region, both in relation to the regime of Bashar Al-Asad and the administration of Iran, is perceived as an urgent necessity. Also, the EU’s interest in the rapprochement with Russia has a considerable dose of political and economic pragmatism. From political viewpoint, this can temper the criticism of the Euro-skeptical forces inside the EU, which emancipated actively in Austria, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic and, most recently, in Italy. The economic aspect of the calculations reside in the wish to unthaw the economic potential of the bilateral relations and to avoid new counteractions against industrial products after those imposed by the Russian side against five categories of agrifood products, starting with August 2014. Facing already the first signs of increasing protectionism on the part of the U.S., the EU rather seeks to prevent the commercial restrictions imposed by Russia, where the legislative body works to toughen up the legislation concerning the mechanism for imposing countersanctions against the unfriendly measures of the U.S. and other states, extension of its applicability and activation in the future (Reuters, May 18, 2018).

The importance of export markets and strengthening of the regional security pillars become dominant variables in the European calculations related to the renewal of the cooperation with the regime of Vladimir Putin. The re-launch of the EU-Russia relations can be interpreted as acceptance of the status-quo in the region, including in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia, which experience insecurities caused or exploited by the Russian authorities that plan to restore the earlier influence of Russia.

Inclination of European leaders towards Russia

The meeting of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Russian leader Vladimir Putin on May 18 this year transmitted the first signals about the revision of the current state of the dialogue between the EU and Russia. Being both reelected to their previous posts, Merkel and Putin compared their views on the situation in Syria and eastern Ukraine without omitting the building of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in their discussions. Despite the criticism leveled by Ukraine and a number of European states led by Poland, Merkel renewed the support for the Russian energy project, but for the first time underlined the importance of Ukraine as a transit country in the future (Free Europe, May 18, 2018). Even if Germany realizes that the functioning of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline means increase in energy dependence and, respectively, political dependence on Russia, Berlin banks on the strategic and economic advantages that the abundance of Russian gas can ensure. The negotiable pragmatism of Angela Merkel is supplemented by the critical realism expressed by the new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas, who defined Russia as a difficult partner and called on the Russian authorities to be more constructive in the Syrian and other cases (Deutsche Welle, May 15, 2018). Other voices inside the German political class, like that of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warn that the distance between Russia and the West can have unfavorable consequences and pleaded against the abandonment of a direct dialog with Moscow (Deutsche Welle, May 15, 2018).

The President of France was the next to plead for improving the relations with Russia, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum of May 25, 2018. According to Emmanuel Macron, there are a series of areas that are outside the animosities over which the EU and Russia can reach a compromise. Thus, in practical terms, the French leader suggests compartmenting the dialogue with Russia and separating difficult subjects from the beneficial ones. Economic and security interests transpire from the view stated by Macron. The French leader wraps them up in the idea of “powerful multilateralism” based on conscious sovereignty, firm cooperation and inclusive multilateralism (President of France, May 28, 2018). Macron is convinced of the necessity of new dynamism in the strategic dialogue with Russia, restoring of confidence and a new philosophy for a common Europe. Even if one of the most powerful pro-European leaders wants the relationship with the Russian partners to be normalized, he underlines the importance of the collective actions, based on confidence as a supreme value. The “partner Europe” proposed by Macron would be useful also to Russia, whose economy necessitates multiple investment transfusions for regaining vigorousness and conditioning broader popular support for the new term in office of Vladimir Putin (IPN, March 19, 2018).

The ‘reconnection’ with Russia is also promoted by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, who believes that Russia-bashing must stop (Guardian, May 31, 2018). The European official’s view is identical to that of the French President, who is in favor of the compartmenting of the dialogue with Russia. According to this idea, the cases where cooperation is possible should co-exist with those where divergences cannot be overcome, such as the annexation of Crimea and the support provided by Russia to separatists in the Donbass region. The arguments provided by the President of the European Commission reveal a clear return to the “realpolitik” that existed before 2014, where Russia was attributed an indispensable role in European security. Not accidentally, Juncker highlighted the geographical inferiority of the EU compared with Russia  (17.1m sq. km versus 5.5 m sq. km) or urged to reconsider the positive role that Russian can play for the EU’s economic energy whose share diminishes gradually. The revision of the relations with Russia is powerfully influenced by the decline through which the EU’s relations with the U.S. go, fueled by the non-coordination of sanctions against Russia and divergences in other cases (Iran, Israel etc.), and also the commercial restrictions on some of the European exports.

Impact on Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova

The restoration of the EU’s relations with Russia generates multiple questions in Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. These are the closest partners of the EU in the Eastern neighborhood and the main factors of irritation for Russia (IPN, March 19, 2018). During the last five years, these countries advanced in the integration into the EU market and adopted a critical rhetoric against Russia, which refuses to play a constructive role for their security. If the EU becomes friendlier towards Russia, this will inevitably mark the public speeches in these countries. Otherwise, we can be witness to the consolidation of the Euro-Atlantic aspirations and, in parallel, to a decrease in the pro-European ones. It is certain that the materialization of the initiative to bring the EU and Russia closer will contribute to the repositioning of the pro-Russian forces whose image was affected by Russia’s fall into disgrace.

Ukraine. The restoration of the EU-Russia dialogue can have serious consequences for Ukraine, which is in a war with the Russia-backed separatist forces. The political forces in Kyiv will be in difficulty of providing convincing explanations to the population if no substantial progress is made in solving the situation in Donbass region. Therefore, the European leaders will make a maximum effort in the “Normandia Format” set to take place in Berlin on June 11 so as to unblock the situation. Ukraine banks on the solving of the problem of hostages and eventual deployment of UN peacekeepers in Donbass, alongside the plenary fulfilment of all the commitments under the Minsk Agreements. The obtaining of positive results in Ukraine would enable the EU to review the sanctions imposed against Russia. It will be thus possible to normalize the relationship with Russia and to easier develop the multi-aspectual cooperation. Even if the existence of a progress is the most favorable solution for the EU, this will look for approximation areas with Russia in any conditions. A negative scenario would be to resume the EU-Russia dialogue by ignoring the Ukrainian cause. In such a case, the Ukrainian political landscape can radicalize and the pro-European and moderate forces will have to orient themselves to the strategic dialogue with the EU and to diminish the pro-European rhetoric. This can affect the reform agenda initiated based on the Association Agreement. The discrediting of the EU in Ukrainians’ eyes will be the major cause that will inevitability affect the efficiency of the instruments applied by the EU, in particular the conditionality principle.

Georgia. Even if the Georgian population is in another situation than the Ukrainian citizens, this is also dominated by the dilemma of security rather than that of conditioned reforms. If the EU’s rapprochement with Russia will take place in parallel with the continues  deterioration of the transatlantic dialogue, the Georgian political forces could prioritize the relationship with the U.S. to the detriment of that with the EU, which is now maximized (IPN, March 26, 2018). Among other effects could be the reanimation of the pro-Russian forces that would obtain a new source for inspiriting the population that tolerates Russia’s presence in the region despite the war of 2008 that resulted in a new episode of territorial disintegration of Georgia.

Moldova. The low popularity of the Euro-Atlantic course (41% against the entry into NATO in March 2018) and the neutrality status hamper the consolidation of the pro-NATO aspirations among Moldovans. That’s why, not as in the case of Ukraine and Georgia, the rapprochement between the EU and Russia favors not the NATO’s positon, but the public sympathies with the Eurasian Economic Union where Moldova recently obtained the status of observer (IPN, May 22, 2018). Currently, Moldovans’ preferences are practically equally divided between the EU and the Eurasian Union (See  Table below), while the improvement of the relations with Russia, which is wanted by the EU, could advantage the pro-Russian forces in Moldova, which pursue a multi-vector foreign policy (IPN, April 23, 2018).


Table. Geopolitical preferences of Moldovans, %


Feb. 2018

Oct. 2017

March 2017

European Union





Eurasian Economic Union











A positive development in the EU-Russian relationship will create difficulties for the Democratic Party of Moldova, which tailored its political profile based on the geopolitical polarization of the population and constant incorporation of the Russian threats into the national political narrative. Thus, the anti-Russia agenda promoted by the Democrats will collide with the local reality where the Europeans make effort to renew the relations between Brussels and Moscow. The eventual rapprochement between the EU and Russia will disarm the Democrats, but will strengthen the position of the extraparliamentary opposition that, besides the European affiliation, articulated anti-oligarchic approaches that will continue at least until the parliamentary elections of December 2018.

Instead of conclusion…

The restoration of the relations between the EU and Russia will have an impact on the countries associated with the EU - Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia – which will form perceptions depending on the ignoring or non-ignoring by Brussels of the negative effects of the Russian factor in the region.

Ukraine is the most vulnerable one as it is the current victim of Russia’s aggressive policy in the eastern vicinity of the EU. Even if the European leaders promise they will not abandon the sensitive files when they resume the cooperation with Russia, such gestures can be described as betrayal. Such an attitude will have an effect on the functionality of the reform agenda that risks turning additionally fragile if the transatlantic dissensions worsen.

The improvement of the dialogue between the EU and Russia can have a significant impact on the geopolitical preferences of the public in Moldova and the attractiveness of the idea of combining the European course and the Eurasian one. The Democrats will be the first to lose in this case as they created a dependence on the anti-Russian rhetoric inspired by the increasing antagonisms witnessed in the EU – Russia relationship. Ultimately, the revitalization of the relationship with the EU could become a new incentive to Russia’s influence in the region and in each of these countries.

Dionis Cenuşa


IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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