Ukraine between the EU and Russia. Geopolitics and mechanisms of external influence behind European and Russian integration projects

Essay, 2018

11 Seiten, Note: 1


Table of Contents

1 Introduction and Statement of the Problem
1.1 Research Question and Methodology

2 Integration Projects and their geopolitical implications
2.1 External soft and hard influences

3 Conclusio

1. Introduction and Statement of the Problem

Among the features of the post-socialist transformation of Eastern Europe over the past two decades have been the conflicts over collective identities, geostrategic territories (national borders) and natural resources (especially natural gas and crude oil). Sometimes these conflicts have led to military confrontations. Expert in Eastern European Studies Prof. Dieter Segert analyzed the situation in the Ukraine as followed:

In the case of the Ukraine, the identities of the various regions, and the related conflicts over the country’s geopolitical orientation towards either “Eurasia” or Europe, clash constantly” (Segert, 2010: 11).

Both actors, Russia on the one hand and the EU on the other, are key players in the post-Soviet space. “The EU’s and Russia’s approaches to their common neighbourhood in Eastern Europe have been contrasted as opposites, with the EU frequently portrayed as a prime supporter of democratization and Russia frequently presented as a spoiler of democratization” (Noutcheva 2018: 312). One could easily criticize this narrative by showing that the EU, like the Russian Federation, supports authoritarian regimes (Morocco, Tunisia, Azerbaijan...).1 In other words: there is a “dark side of Europeanization” (Börzel 2015). By examining the “Western mainstream media” and its contemporary propaganda (with reference to the Ukraine crisis), one could find cold war rhetoric on both sides (Barrett 2017; Noutcheva 2018: 319).2 But most important both external actors Russia and the EU have used a wide variety of instruments ranging from more coercive to softer tools in order to influence the domestic trajectories of the former Soviet states, geographically squeezed between the EU and Russia (Noutcheva 2018: 312). As we will see in this essay, the case of Ukraine is special and is a culmination of a long­term crisis in EU-Russia relations. This short introduction leads me to the research question:

1.1 Research Question and Methodology

What geopolitical reasons lie behind the competing integrations projects initiated from Russia (EAEU.) and the EU (ENP.) concerning the Ukraine? A question that could not be fully answered in this essay, but which is relevant to mention is, to what extant these competing dynamics could lead to tension, conflict and war in the eastern European region? My last question, which I try to answer in this essay, is what tools of soft and hard power from both Russia and the EU are used in order to influence the Ukrainian political trajectories in the post Orange Revolution era? Russia’s and EU’s integration policies will be therefore described in empirical terms, based on secondary literature, and interpreted in terms of (neo-)realism. In analyzing Russia’s and EU’s foreign policy towards the Ukraine I will consider Russia’s and EU’s official foreign policy concepts and other relevant documents and statements by their representatives.

2. Integration Projects and their geopolitical implications

Since the launch of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2003-04 and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) in 2009, the EU has endeavored to spread its rules, its values and economy into its neighbourhood (Delcour 2017: 187). However, this enlargement and this “EU presence” in the post-Soviet region triggered concerns in Russia. Russia responded by launching in 2010 its own hard- law integration project, the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU), which was upgraded to a Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) in 2015 (Delcour 2017: 188). As a result, Ukraine located between the EU and Russia became the object of rivalry between this two integration projects from Brussels and Moscow (Haukkala 2015: 27).

Let us have a closer look: While the attraction of the EU as a “soft power” lies in the European model of democracy, respect of human rights and appeal to civil society, Russia still uses traditional instruments of “hard power” for persuading its neighbours to the advantages of post­Soviet integration (Zhurzhenko 2010: 21). To be more precise: “The EU’s approach rests on positive conditionality and voluntary, sovereign choice, avoiding the use of punitive actions for those who choose to abstain from closer ties with the Union. By contrast, Russia demands a higher level of commitment to regional integration from the post- Soviet states and applies a whole spectrum of mechanisms (including positive and negative conditionality) to build a Eurasian region” (Delcour 2017: 187f). Both projects can be characterized as “region-building”, defined as the dynamic and process of building closer political, economic, security and socio­cultural linkages between states and societies that are geographically proximate (ebd.; Börzel 2012: 255). For (neo-)realists like Mearsheimer (2001: 35) these linkages could be seen as expansionist policies and strategic tools for states which seek to maximize their own relative power. From this perspective the EU-Russia rivalry can be deemed to be hegemon-led alliances aimed at increasing the power of the region-builder (hegemon) and/or as a response to another region-builder project (Delcour 2017: 190). However, this does not answer the following question: Why is the Ukraine so important for both the EU and Russia? The case of Ukraine is very special: Ukraine was “the heart” of the Soviet industry and even today, “Ukraine remains Russia’s largest trading partner in the former Soviet space, while Russia is still Ukraine’s most important economic partner. With a shared economy under the Soviet system, many Russian industries continue to rely on Ukrainian imports and assistance and vice versa” (Dunnett 2015). The EU on the other side wants to shape developments in countries that border on the EU, and are therefore very important for its security (migration, terrorism). This was clearly articulated in the EU’s 2003 Security Strategy:

Even in an era of globalisation, geography is still important. It is in the European interest that countries on our borders are well- governed. Neighbours who are engaged in violent conflict, weak states where organized crime flourishes, dysfunctional societies or exploding population growth on its borders all pose problems for Europe” (Council of the EU 2003, in: Delcour 2017: 191).

On the other hand, we face Russia’s Eurasian integration project, which is a work of “social engineering of regional identity” (Adler and Crawford 2004: 23, in: Delcour 2017: 192) that draws on the civilizational, cultural and economic ties among post-Soviet states. “Ukraine remained pivotal to Russia’s vision of the region and its participation in the 1995 Customs Union was actively pursued. In addition to political persuasion, the Russian leadership used economic pressure to achieve its objective, for example, by imposing excise duties on oil and gas imports, stating that they will remain in place until Ukraine joins the Customs Union” (Balmaceda, 1998 in: Dragneva 2015: 17). The Ukraine-Russia relations changes with Putin and renewed integration ambitions aroused. The first major milestone of Putin’s integration initiative was the EEC (Eurasian Economic Community). However, Ukraine never signed a full membership, in contrary glancing at the NATO Action Plan in 2002 and at the EU’s Wider Europe Initiative in 2003. Finally, the “colour revolution” were seen as a direct outcome of the western influence. In the next chapter, I will come back to the “colour revolution” and its narratives. The next step was the launch of the EU’s Eastern Partnership 2009, which awoke long-standing fears in Russia about western influence. Many EU countries are also NATO- members, which is also worth mentioning. Ukraine’s relations with NATO, the biggest military organization worldwide, officially began in 1991. Ukraine was the first CIS state to sign the Partnership for Peace (PfP) agreement with NATO (1994). Ukraine’s participation in the (illegal) U.S. war in Iraq was also an expression of its political support for the U.S (Kropatcheva 2010: 57-60). The Ukrainian population is regionally divided: In the east and south of Ukraine the population is more opposed to membership NATO than in the west and the center, but the majority of the population as a whole is against accession (ebd.: 65). The West, especially the U.S was has played a crucial role in trying to garner international economic support for Ukraine through the IMF, World Bank and the G-7.3 Russia on contrary has a military base in Sevastopol, and had two in Odessa and in Nikolayev, which passed into the jurisdiction of Ukraine after the break-up of the USSR (ebd.: 87). Some EU-members observe this tension with Russia carefully: Some EU state are dependent on Russia’s Oil and Gas exports. By 2030, according to the EIA, the EU will depend on imported oil for 94% of its total need, as a result of which the importance of Russian oil deliveries will also increase (ebd.: 166). Ukraine’s dependence on Russia is especially significant in the energy sphere. The recent history show how dramatic such conflictual integration projects could escalate in conflict and war:

In late 2013, Ukraine shot to the centre of global attention as a result of the protests triggered by its government’s refusal to sign a new agreement with the European Union (EU). The protests ultimately resulted in a change of government, in turn provoking a powerful countervailing reaction from Russia - the annexation of Crimea, support for separatism in eastern Ukraine and an energy stand-off and trade war with Ukraine. On a regional level, the crisis triggered profound challenges to Ukraine’s statehood and led to greater instability in the area; on a global level, it shattered the international order established in the aftermath of the Cold War” (Dragneva 2015: 2).

All that points out that both the EU and Russia try to integrate Ukraine in their own sphere of influence, because of economic, geostrategic and security reasons. In other words: we saw the geopolitical aspect of EU’s and Russia’s integration projects. In my opinion the biggest mistake of the EU was that “EU attempts at inclusion have nevertheless always had rather uneasy coexistence with exclusion: at no point has Russia been deemed a serious candidate for full accession to any of the leading European bodies, be it the EU or NATO” (Haukkala 2015: 36). In the case of Ukraine, I believe that the EU’s approach to its eastern neighbours put Ukraine in a position of being forced to choose between the two already mentioned integration systems (Dragneva 2015: 3). Now I will show the tools and mechanisms of external influences:

2.1 External soft and hard influences

Here I will use the study of Noutcheva (2017) and the “soft power” concept of Nye (2004) and Cooper (2004) in order to show the different types of external soft and hard mechanisms of influence. With external and structural influence, I mean EU or Russian policies that concerning the rational choice paradigm of incentives, rewards, sanctions, punishment, and so on that are influencing the domestic trajectory of Ukrainian politics. As Cooper points out soft power plays a crucial role in the EU foreign policy:

The European Union has forged its enlargement policy mainly relying on the attraction it exerts as a socio-political role model in its vicinity and has therefore earned itself a reputation as the epitome of soft power, leading some authors to laud it as “the embodiment of soft power” (Cooper 2004, 1).


1 Anna Khakee (2017) focuses on the western “democracy assistance” which have reinforces the stability of hybrid regimes in the MENA region. Similar to Khakee analysis Freyburg (2012) argues that there are two sides of the cooperation with authoritarian regimes. He points out (pp. 575), that there is a conflict of foreign objectives between short-term political stability and long-term democratic change. He shows through a qualitative and comparative case study that these two concept of foreign objectives showed contradictory effects. As Gils (2017) points out, Azerbaijan (AZ) is an interesting case, because despite the EU’s value-promotion efforts there is no transformative effects. In contrary, the democracy and human rights situation in Azerbaijan (AZ) has been worsening in recent years (pp. 388).

2 Oliver Boyd-Barrett (2017) examines in his study of conflict propaganda the Western media narratives of the immediate causes of the Ukraine crisis, including US-backed NGOs and rightist militia.

3 Therefore, authors like Birchfield/ Young (2018) call it “Triangular Diplomacy” among the U.S., EU and Russia concerning the Ukraine. In other words they explore the interaction between the US, EU and Russia. These three powers represent the vertices of the triangle in “triangular diplomacy”, with Ukraine as the “object” in the middle (pp. 2).

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Ukraine between the EU and Russia. Geopolitics and mechanisms of external influence behind European and Russian integration projects
Universität Wien  (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
(BAK11) European Union - The European Union as a global actor
ISBN (eBook)
This work was graded "very good/ excellent"
EU, Ukraine, Russia, EU as global actor, geopolitics, peace studies, conflict studies
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Josef Muehlbauer (Autor:in), 2018, Ukraine between the EU and Russia. Geopolitics and mechanisms of external influence behind European and Russian integration projects, München, GRIN Verlag,


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