In the previous edition of the European Foreign Policy Scorecard, the EU’s relations with Russia emerged as a surprising success story: where Europeans were once divided, they were now united. This positive background is part of the reason why the EU’s Russia policy during 2013 looks somewhat disappointing: one would have hoped that the EU would have managed to translate its unity of analyses into at least marginally effective policies. Sadly, this did not happen in 2013. But neither did the member states retreat into pursuing purely bilateral relationships with Russia. Even though different countries prioritised different issues and there was not always a common line in the EU’s exchanges with Russia, basic strategic unity remained, waiting to be utilised. [..]
2013 was the year when President Vladimir Putin’s regime, weakened by the protests that took place in 2011 and 2012, consolidated itself. Overt political repression remained selective – possibly influenced by infighting among the loyalist elites, who prefer different ways of dealing with dissent. There were few new political arrests and an amnesty announced in December ended many of the political court cases which had been dragging on ever since the protests of 2012 or, in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a decade longer. Regional elections even saw some relatively free and fair votes – the Moscow mayoral election being the most prominent example. At the same time, the Kremlin upgraded its control over elites, demanding a higher degree of loyalty than used to be the case and further limiting the space for free exchanges. The December amnesty did away with some prominent symbols of the arbitrary justice system, but left the system itself intact. The political opposition tried to organise itself but is not yet in a position to pose a real challenge to the powers that be.
Having lost the support of urban liberal groups, the Kremlin resorted to conservative values and illiberal rhetoric to mobilise the rest of society. As a result, the human rights situation deteriorated to new lows, with sexual, racial, and national minorities as well as political protesters being affected. Most prominent among the measures was legislation adopted in late June that bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors”. Condemned by rights organisations as highly discriminatory, it prompted an outcry in the West and a new wave of homophobia in Russia. Criticism by Europeans of discriminatory measures was used by Russian spin-doctors to portray the West as “decadent and amoral”.
Europeans were taken aback towards the end of the year when Moscow’s threats and pressure prevented Ukraine from signing an Association Agreement with the EU in the framework of the Eastern Partnership policy. Europeans were insufficiently aware of the real nature of discussions going on inside Ukraine, or between Kiev and Moscow, and unable to answer Russian pressure on either a political or an economic level. Torn between normative and geopolitical approaches towards Ukraine, the EU in the end played neither well. Europeans were also unable to influence Russian policy in the Middle East, and in particular on Syria. Having spent years trying to persuade Russia to act more decisively on Syria, Europeans suddenly lacked a role as well as a common position when Russia finally moved in September and brokered an agreement to remove and destroy chemical weapons.
In theory, Europeans have some leverage over Russia as its most important trading partner. Russia also wants visa-liberalisation from Europe and has a stake in the success of the Sochi Winter Olympics, which take place in February, as well as other upcoming international events, such as the G8 summit in the summer. But Europeans have not managed to use this leverage to influence Russia’s political behaviour. They have not found a comprehensive approach in their relations with Russia – one that would allow them to co-operate with Russia where appropriate, and use this co-operation to put pressure on Moscow on human and political rights questions, rather than allow the Kremlin to use it to legitimise the regime at home.
Trade and energy were the only spheres where the EU managed to demonstrate its strength and resolve. In July, frustrated by Russia’s unwillingness to implement WTO rules, the EU filed a complaint with the WTO, requesting consultations on Russian legislation and effectively launching the WTO dispute settlement process. The anti-trust case against Gazprom also continued. After a year of investigation, mainly in Central and Eastern Europe, the European Commission started to prepare a charge against Gazprom, which could cost the company up to €11 billion.
As a result of the Commission’s resolve, together with the Third Energy Package, there is now discussion in Russia about whether to split up Gazprom into a transport and extraction company. As other companies on the Russian energy market such as Rosneft and Novatek emerge, Gazprom is losing its export monopoly. Member states have not undermined the European Commission on the anti-trust case. But not all member states will achieve the objectives of the internal energy market as demanded in the Third Energy Package. At the same time, the German government supports Gazprom’s attempt to exempt the OPAL pipeline, which links Nord Stream with the European gas network, from the Third Energy Package.
The EU’s diversification policy also suffered a major blow in 2013 with the cancellation of the Nabucco pipeline by the Azerbaijan lead consortium of the Shaz Deniz 2 gas field. Nabucco was the key project of the EU’s Southern Gas Corridor and was cancelled in exchange for the much smaller and shorter Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). This will give Turkey and Azerbaijan a greater role in the project. TAP was also supported by Italy – the final destination of the pipeline. At the same time, the Russian-led South Stream made progress: final agreements were reached with the transit countries and the pipeline began to be constructed on the Russian side. Beside Gazprom, stakeholders in South Stream include Italy’s ENI, Germany’s Wintershall, and France’s EdF.