The Clash of Discourses regarding Relations with Russia: New Fault Lines in the European Union?

By Naumescu, Valentin | Romanian Journal of European Affairs, December 2017 | Go to article overview

The Clash of Discourses regarding Relations with Russia: New Fault Lines in the European Union?


Naumescu, Valentin, Romanian Journal of European Affairs


Introduction: Discourse Theory and the EU-Russia Relations

After the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, followed by the secession war which erupted in Eastern Ukraine, it became clear that the topic of European security, as well as the relations with Putin's regime, needed an appropriate answer/readjustment from the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions as well as an explicit positioning of their respective member states. Theorists and analysts in the European Union and the United States announced a major turning point in relations with Russia, "from courtship to confrontation" (Maass, 2017:1-4). The relations between the West and the Russian Federation in the post-Cold War period have never been really warm, although in the 1990s they were to some extent neutral and based on mutual acceptance. In 2014, Russia's shocking and illegal annexation of Crimea and the war fuelled by Moscow in Ukraine's Donbas region have marked a pivotal moment for policy makers and military planners in the West (Makarychev and Yatsyk, 2016).

The aim of this article is to explore the various and sometimes clashing discourses on the EU-Russian relations, from the EU Member States, and to determine whether the existing differences may or may not lead to a real division of the European Union based on this issue. The research will clearly demonstrate that the cleavages driven by the EU's Russia policy are deepening. Although the disagreements with regard to Russia, between different European countries, platforms and politicians become more and more evident, our answer in the conclusion is that the growing cleavages regarding the EU's Russia policy will not eventually disintegrate the European Union, since there is no country, political platform or relevant politician in the EU, the most Eurosceptic ones included, who is advocating a strategic switch from the EU membership to joining the Eurasian Union or other form of political rapprochement with Russia.

The structure of this article includes four sections. In the introduction, we define the aim of the paper and the research question and we also present the methods that we used to conduct the research. Along with the theoretical framework, a number of relevant titles and authors are cited in order to introduce the topic. The second section continues and extends the review of the existing literature and finds the current "place" of the European discourses on EU-Russia relations, amidst the change from the consensus of 2014 to the more dynamic, nuanced and volatile political climate after 2016. The third section is a rather prospective one, in search of an answer to the disagreements regarding the EU's Russia policy and the resilience of the European Union facing this challenge. Finally, the conclusions summarize the arguments and formulate the final answer to the research question, accompanied by some remarks on the limitations of the present paper and further research opportunities.

Based on a comparative qualitative method, this research consists of a thoroughly comparative analysis of the most relevant types of political discourses on the EU-Russia relations, referring to public documents, press releases, statements, interviews etc. focused on the topic. The already mentioned question is examined through the lens of a large variety of political expressions in the European Union, and structured on criteria such as affiliation to the right-wing or left-wing ideology, different regions, specific national interests, electoral contexts or government positions etc. Essentially, there are two main steps of the present analysis: the first, in which we observe the depth of the cleavages between the European options with regard to the EU's Russia policy, and the second in which we address the resilience of the European Union faced with growing differences of vision in relation to the Russian Federation.

The basis and resources of political discourses with regard to bilateral relations, in the liberal democracies as well as in the post-Soviet Russia, were significantly enlarged and diversified after 1991. …

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