Today German and French positions reflect much more the skepticism ingrained in the EU’s “five guiding principles for relations with Russia” than previous ideas of a strategic partnership with Moscow. This will render it impossible for Russia to simply return to traditional bilateralism. If, at some point in the future, a Russian leadership wants to normalize relations with the EU and rebuild European security, it will have to take into account, among many other things, the almost complete collapse of trust in its relations with Germany and France.
With Chancellor Merkel visibly weakened as a result of the recent Bundestag elections, President Macron has been free to take the lead in managing Europe’s difficult relations with Russia. His announced participation in the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in May 2018 can signal the resumption of full-scale dialogue between the estranged former partners, which might bring better understanding of the existing political differences between Europe and Russia, while allowing for expanded commercial and cultural contacts between them.
Russians are surprisingly interested in the developments in Catalonia. Oddly enough, the running theme here is related to democracy. “Incompetent” democracy results in instability, so Russians take pity on the Spaniards and Catalonians: they no longer have the kind of stability that Russians do. The price of stability, however, is not up for discussion. Among other things, this approach contributes to sustaining the negative trend in relations between Russia and the EU.
The UK’s future security relationship with the EU will be of the utmost concern in light of Brexit. This will likely mean consistency in its foreign policy approach to Russia. That is not to say that constructive dialogue is not a genuine shared interest, but it will be in small measure at first rather than any post-Brexit grand agreement.
Russia believes that it only makes sense to develop relations with major European Union powers, as it counts on the further weakening of the EU. But European institutions are designed so that large countries are unable to dominate them. Russia needs to change its attitude to small EU countries because it is they that will strive for greater unity in the spheres of defense and security.
Relations between Russia, Europe, and the United States are in flux as none is able or wants to maintain what it once had. An attempt to revive the Cold War paradigm has failed, and a new framework of relations has not formed. This state of uncertainty will most likely endure until each player achieves a measure of domestic stability.
Russia’s new relationship with the EU could be that of a hybrid vehicle that can run either off the old internal combustion model of East-West geopolitical division or off the new system of global, regional, and sub-regional regimes that preserve and expand the “shared spaces” of Russia and Europe.