Hossein Ahmadi

Russia's Threats and Europe's Limits

Date of publication : January 30, 2018 06:29 am
Russian President Vladimir Putin speeches during the Tavrida International Youth Forum in Steregushcheye at Bakalskaya spit, Crimea, August 20, 2017
Russian President Vladimir Putin speeches during the Tavrida International Youth Forum in Steregushcheye at Bakalskaya spit, Crimea, August 20, 2017

Mutual security and military actions taken by Europe and Russia, especially following developments in Ukraine, have been among important issues for analysts of Europe’s issues. 
During recent years, the European Union and its member states have been facing three remarkable threats: the “threat posed to lives of European citizens,” the “thereat to European project,” and the “threat arising from confrontation with an increasingly self-confident Russia.” There is ample evidence to prove increasing political and military self-confidence of Russia, examples of which include Russia's military actions in Ukraine and Eastern Europe as well as its effective military presence in Syria. 
With regard to military maneuvers, holding of the massive Zapad 2017 military exercise by Russia and Belarus was a clear sign of Russia's ability and determination to deploy forces in various regions, including in the Baltic region. It was also a symbol of the Russia's effective defensive capabilities in the face of the West’s aerial superiority, and was a sign of Russia's offensive power and its ability to stop the advances of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 
On the other hand, there is a strong tendency among European politicians, which makes them believe that a large part of social and political opposition to the status quo in Europe – even with regard to recent developments in Spain’s Catalonia region – can be blamed on the Kremlin and Russia's complex war against Western democracies. Within this framework, the hypothesis on which there has been relative consensus is that actions taken by Russia in recent years in Europe, including the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, have created a remarkable degree of convergence in the Russian policy of the European Union, including with regard to the implementation of the sanctions policy against Moscow. However, when it comes to the issue of Russia, the European Union and European countries are not only faced with such problems as their dependence on the Russian energy reserves, but also have to deal with other important limitations like ambiguity about the lasting nature of fundamental principles of Euro-Atlantic relations and the lack of a common understanding of the nature of the Russia threat.
Ambiguity about the lasting nature of the fundamental principles in Euro-Atlantic relations is among limitations facing European countries in their actions regarding Russia. Since the establishment of NATO, the goal of this organization has been to provide two-way security services to Europe and the United States. Despite differences in viewpoints between the two sides, including about the war in Iraq in 2003, there have been three fundamental principles in Euro-Atlantic relations. Those principles include the necessity of dealing with insecurity through active engagement; that the engagement policy would work best through cooperation between Europe and the United States; and that there is no ally for NATO member states better than themselves. However, these three ideas and basic principles have been challenged under the incumbent US President Donald Trump.
From Trump’s viewpoint, foreign policy is a field for a zero-sum game in which any action that may increase security of other countries will end in a net loss for the United States. Of course, there are such institutions as the national security advisor in the United States, which unlike Trump believe that the policy of global engagement is not a well-wishing action, but is a step taken to meet more extensive interests of the United States. However, due to the important role and position of the US president in the country’s governance structure, Europe will be constantly faced with the concern that at a time of crisis, the United States may avoid getting involved in active engagement of Europe with Russia as a result of Trump’s decision.
The fundamental question currently facing Europe is whether the new tendency of the United States is an ephemeral abnormality or the sign of a long-term change in the United States’ attitude toward Europe. The point that must be taken into account is that former US secretary of defense, Robert Gates, had noted in an address in 2011 that “future U.S. political leaders—those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me—may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost.”  Therefore, it seems convincing Americans that Europe is important to meeting the interests of the United States is going to become increasingly difficult.
Absence of a common understanding of the nature of the Russia threat is another limitation facing Europe in its confrontation with Russia. European countries lack a common understanding as to the nature of the Russia threat. For example, while Eastern European countries, especially those in the Baltic region, are very concerned about Russia's military measures; Germany, France and Italy believe that European forces deployed to Eastern and Central Europe must be limited in number and capability, because this will keep the road to interaction with the Russian side open. They also maintain that Russia should not be forced to believe that NATO’s actions are of an aggressive nature. On the other hand, countries in Southern Europe consider security threats posed by the influx of refugees as well as threats posed by southern neighbors of Europe more important than the Russia threat. From this viewpoint, while these countries are cautious about NATO’s presence in the Mediterranean due to security risks arising from NATO’s intervention in countries like Libya, they do not agree with the idea that it is necessary for Europe and NATO to focus on Eastern Europe.

© Abrar Moaser Tehran

Hossein Ahmadi, PhD in international relations, is the guest contributor to TISRI.

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