Macron is right about the need to see relations with Russia in the context of a changing international system. At the same time, there must be a sober assessment of what is and is not possible between the EU and Russia.
The political framework for cooperation was agreed at the Russia-Africa summit, and with heads of state in attendance and a declaration signed, it was undoubtedly a success for Russia’s Foreign Ministry. As for an institutional economic framework for what is being billed as “Russia’s return to Africa,” it’s still early days.
As long as Serbia lacks a solution to the Kosovo dispute that it can sell both to its international partners and to people at home, and as long as Serbia is denied a clear path to EU integration, it will continue to keep the Russia card up its sleeve.
Only the continuation of nuclear arms control can create the political and military conditions for eventual limitations of innovative weapons systems and technologies, as well as for a carefully thought through and phased shift to a multilateral format of nuclear disarmament.
Both Belarusian officials and U.S. presidential adviser John Bolton were quick to put out the message that the visit was more about form than content. Bolton said openly that no issues had been resolved at the meeting, but that he had not expected otherwise. Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said that no one was enticing Minsk over to any side, and that the two sides had simply agreed to keep communicating.
It’s impossible for Russia to return to the G7, but it’s also impossible for the group to solve many problems important to it without Russia. France’s relationship of trust with the Russian leadership, and the opportunity to represent Russia behind the scenes at the group’s gatherings, are an important diplomatic asset that France would hate to lose.
Financial sanctions that limit Russia’s borrowing are for now ineffective, as Russia currently has three surpluses: in the federal budget, balance of trade, and current account. The Russian state and most Russian business (at least the kind of business that could in theory raise investment abroad) simply don’t need major credit lines.
The European Union is taking up a defensive position. This is not isolationism but pragmatism, which signals a revision of the ideas at its heart and a sharp decrease in any desire to project power, including soft power. For Russia-EU relations, this will mean a period in which any kind of ambition will become irrelevant. Efforts will now be focused on reducing expenditure and risks.
The standoff between European pragmatists and skeptics on Russia won’t end here. The pragmatists will now face heightened political risk for a long time, both in the Council of Europe and in their own countries. Any actions or even statements by Russia that could directly or indirectly confirm the skeptics’ fears will now unleash a barrage of criticism not only of Moscow, but also of those who allowed the Russian delegation to return to the Parliamentary Assembly.