Analysis: EU-Russia – new sources of ‘soft power’

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

In the summer edition of Europe’s World, Charles William Maynes (President of the Eurasia Foundation) takes a critical stance at the EU’s soft power approach in its relation to Russia, and suggests ways of invigorating it. 

The EU has long remained hesitant on how to handle its relation to Russia, Charles William Maynes observes. While Europe first seemed “concerned but not worried” about its post-sovietic era decline, leaving Russia policy “on autopilot” for the last couple of years, it now has difficulties to apprehend its recent economic boom and the gain in political coherence (if not democratic credibility) of its government, the author argues.

According to C.W. Maynes, Europe is facing two major problems in trying to establish a constructive dialogue with – not to mention exerting an influence over – Russia:

  • The soft power approach has shown its limits. Indeed, the “ability to persuade” via humanitarian, pacific tools, as opposed to the (US-like) “ability to compel” via military interventions, mainly relies on the prospect of EU membership. As this is no credible future for Russia at the moment, the author insists that “Europe must seek new sources of soft power.”
  • Europe would have “no collective foreign policy toward Russia” – the “Four Spaces” approach on possible areas of cooperation having no more value added than a “laundry list.”

Against this backdrop, the President of the Eurasia Foundation suggests that the EU:

  • Should develop an alternative path between “membership” and “exclusion,” in order to craft “organic ties” between the EU and Russia. This could take the form of a special trading regime of wide-ranging cooperation (on issues such as energy, aircraft design, etc.)
  • Should “recognise more openly than in the past its shared interest with the US in Russia’s democratic development.” Alluding to potential regulatory obstacles in this direction, C.W. Maynes thinks this could start with a stronger support to the Russian civil society. 
  • Should make its voice more united and “audible” on Russian issues.

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