I’ve always liked Transitions Online, but found this opinion column by Jeremy Druker a little confusing. Druker is looking to give some balance to Russia’s vocal opposition to the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, and looking hard. I appreciate this, and think that everybody writing about Russia should work harder to understand their perspective. With regard to the Eastern Partnership, I am sure that somewhere in all this there could be a legitimate grievance on behalf of Moscow, but I don’t really see what is so threatening about having stronger democracies and economies on your borders – in fact that would be very good for Russia. As it stands, this would be like Washington complaining about Chinese investment in Mexico and Brazil, or France getting angry at Spain for signing business cooperation agreements with Portugal. At the end of the day, these countries are sovereign and free, and should be able to form partnerships with whomever they please – Russia, the EU, Japan, etc. The “spheres of influence” and “backyard” arguments are not convincing.
However, despite the paranoia about any initiative that even remotely appears to encroach on Moscow’s traditional sphere of influence, the Russians do have a point about the Eastern Partnership.
It is highly likely that the supporters of the Eastern Partnership within the EU – and that includes some of Russia’s fiercest critics among the new member states – are not entirely altruistic. Surely, they see the opportunity to expand into Russia’s traditional backyard as part of the equation, even if no one in Brussels would openly admit that. And it would be easy to see why Russia is worried, since the package that Brussels can offer must be more appealing, at least to the younger generation, than an embrace reminiscent of the Soviet Union.