|Dionis Cenuşa, Senior Contributor|
The normalization of the dialogue with Russia has returned to the forefront during the 2020 Munich Security Conference. French leader Emmanuel Macron wants an improved relationship with Russia. The repeated request to rehabilitate the strategic dialogue with the eastern giant does not ignore the Russian aggression towards Ukraine but regards it as a single deviation from the norm.
Such an approach benefits national governments and leaders with pro-Russian sympathies within the EU and, primarily, in the European proximity. As a result, tolerant political beliefs about Russia's misdoings on the international arena are gaining public visibility, free political advertising and electoral potential favorable to pro-Russian forces, as in the case of Moldova.
“Macronization” of the approach to Russia
Macron's insensitivity to the ubiquitous Russian hybrid attacks, in Ukrainian and European affairs in general, outlines dangerous prospects for the cohesion and integrity of the Europeanization process. Therefore, the acceptability of the political rapprochement with Russia receives validation. The price paid for such an adventure would be neglecting the critics of the autocratic regime led by Vladimir Putin.
Motivated by Germany's increased passivity, caused by the future post-Merkel political transition, the French leader inoculates the prospect of a compromise with Moscow. Macron justifies the need for cohabitation with Russia, even though it is "uncomfortable" (Euronews, February 2020). That is also a reaction to an international order increasingly impacted by US trade unilateralism and China's investment neo-imperialism.
Thus, the political consequences for popularizing the discourse about the need to unify "space from Lisbon to Vladivostok" are decreasing dramatically. A controversial transnational belief is proliferating that the EU would be incomplete without a partnership with Russia. Macron intends to invest political-diplomatic energy to coordinate actions with Russia in the overlapping regions, rather than to fail to anticipate them.
European integration with a Russian accent
The misleading thought that Russia possesses the ability and internal will to correct itself blinds the realistic assessment of the structural threats caused by the Russian factor. The gaze at Russia through a distorted mirror favours neither the local opposition forces nor the democratic elements in the European neighbourhood where Russian influence awards and tolerates pro-Russian leaders who disregard liberal democracy.
An openness to Russia without the application of a critical filter induces the idea that European integration would be compatible with the Russian presence, even if the latter builds its "soft power" on the denigration of the liberal core that underlies the European identity and project.
Cancelling European concerns about the critical situation of Russian democracy and its effects on regional and international security architecture weakens the political standards attached to the Europeanization of Moldova and other Eastern Partnership countries.
As a result, European integration can quickly develop a Russian accent, characterized by three significant aspects. First, the relationship with the EU would consist of a request for external financing in exchange for a very technical approach to any reform. The second aspect involves prioritization of the economic sectors, where the financial interests prevail, and the dedication for the implementation of the political principles would be dried up. Last but not least, the traditional-Christian values can get equal footing with liberal ones, which are at the base of the rule of law, of which human rights are part. Thus, the social segments that remained behind the Europeanization would remain demotivated to embrace liberal values, viewed as a source of the impasse.
Instead of conclusions ...
The “Macronization” of the European approach towards Russia brings with it clear challenges for an objective and critical standing against Vladimir Putin' regime misbehaviour concerning its citizens, but also within the international affairs.
The advantage of European integration lies in the political principles it implies, more than the practical aspects that come with the absorption of European regulations. The rehabilitation of relations with Russia without its political transformation, preceded by the liberation of the Ukrainian territory, may result in a robust Russian emphasis on European integration in the EU's eastern neighbourhood.
Areas of research: European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Moldova relationship, EU's foreign policy and Russia, migration and energy security.
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