Brussels, January 28, 2023
To Professor Charles Hyart
1. Russia is a European power
Россия есть Европейская держава
Russia is a European power. This was a phrase I often heard repeated by Charles Hyart (1913-2014), my teacher of language and of history of Russian civilisation at the University of Liège. It appears in Article 6 of the Nakaz of Empress Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796), the Instruction she issued in 1767 to the Legislative Commission responsible for harmonising the laws. This work was an authentic treatise on political philosophy, inspired by L’esprit des Lois (1748) of Montesquieu (1689-1755) and by the Italian jurist Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794). It was written in French, then translated into Russian by the Tsarina herself . The phrase appearing in this Article 6 underlines that there was, at least in the minds of certain leaders – despots, enlightened or otherwise –, a desire to impose the notion of a European Russia on both Russians and Westerners.
This orientation did not first emerge in the 18th century. Ever since Ivan IV, known as Grozny, the Terrible (1530-1584), the first Tsar of Russia who reigned from 1547 to 1584, Russia had regularly opened itself up to the West, and in particular to the English through the Northern ports. Peter the Great (1672-1725), who reigned from 1694 to 1725, began a genuine process to westernise the country. This movement continued until the Common European Home, the concept created by Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-2022), even if there were a number of pendulum swings which saw Russia’s European identity sometimes enhanced and sometimes rejected. Some actors viewed the westernisation of their country as a process of derussification. They considered it a betrayal of the triumphant heritage of Byzantium from which Russia arose. They opposed Westernisation, which they regarded as deviance, in the name of slavophilia – Slav nationalism –, asianity or eurasianism, which were permeating the vastness of the two continents straddled by Russia.
But it was also in the name of this vastness that, despite her intellectual proximity to Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and to Alembert (1717-1783), Catherine the Great wrote in Articles 9 and 11 of her Instruction that:
[…] The sovereign is absolute; for there is no other authority but that which centers in his single person that can act with a vigour proportionate to the extent of such a vast dominion. […] Every other form of government whatsoever would not only have been prejudicial to Russia, but would even have proved its entire ruin .
We will not descend into such determinism.
The Western Europeans’ view of Russia also varied: the violent presence of the Cossacks of Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825), conqueror of Napoleon (1769-1821), experienced by Liège, the Ardenne, then Paris in 1814, and then the fear of troops from a Russia who was “the policeman of Europe”, the Russia of Nicolas I (1796-1855), threatening the Belgian Revolution of 1830 from afar, gave way, after the Crimean War (1853-1856) , to the Franco-Russian Alliance of 1892 and to the bloody confrontation of 1914-1918 which led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of 3 March 1918. This treaty, in which the central empires imposed peace on the Eastern front, meant, for Russia, the loss of Ukraine, the Baltic States and the Caucasus, against the backdrop of the anti-Bolshevik crusades pursued by the Allies: the English, French, Italian, American and Japanese intervened directly and militarily until 1920 .
Then came the fascination exerted by Petrograd, then Moscow, the new capital of a Bolshevik socialism, on our intellectuals and proletariat, until the end of the 20th century for some. A land existed, said André Gide (1869-1951) in 1936, where utopia was becoming reality , and which, increasingly, asserted itself as a global superpower with the United States, as French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) had foreseen a century earlier, in 1835, in Democracy in America:
There are, at the present time, two great nations in the world which seem to tend towards the same end, although they started from different points: I allude to the Russians and the Americans. Both of them have grown up unnoticed; and whilst the attention of mankind was directed elsewhere, they have suddenly assumed a most prominent place amongst the nations; and the world learned their existence and their greatness at almost the same time.
All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and only to be charged with the maintenance of their power; but these are still in the act of growth; all the others are stopped, or continue to advance with extreme difficulty; these are proceeding with ease and with celerity along a path to which the human eye can assign no term .
2. The Second Russian Revolution
The arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin in March 1985 was a major bifurcation which triggered a reversion movement in Europe. The backdrop was characterised by the partial failure of the implementation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), held in Helsinki in 1975 . It was also a period of tensions over the siting of missiles in Europe, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the Polish crisis in the early 1980s.
From 1985 to 1986, the reforming Russian leader developed an idea which he presented in a speech he gave in London in 1984: in his view, Europe is our common home . This initial signal enabled the European Economic Community, the following year, to begin negotiations with Moscow for the purpose of preparing a draft agreement on trade and cooperation. One of Gorbachev’s collaborators, Vladimir Lukin, a diplomat at the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation (MID), noted in 1988 that the European Common Home proclaimed by President Gorbachev represents the home of a civilisation on the periphery of which we have remained for a long time. Lukin, the future ambassador to Washington, noted that this process, which at that time was growing in Russia and in a number of countries in the East, had, everywhere, the same historical dimension, namely the dimension of a return towards Europe .
With his New Thinking, Gorbachev continued his reform of the USSR . In his famous speech of 7 December 1988 at the United Nations in New York, the Kremlin leader showed a new face of Russia and undertook to withdraw from Germany and from Eastern Europe a substantial portion of the Soviet troops stationed there.
A few months later, on 6 July 1989, before the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where, in 1959, General de Gaulle (1890-1970) had evoked the idea of a Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals , Mikhail Gorbachev announced the repeal of the Brezhnev doctrine. This dealt with the right of the USSR to intervene in the socialist countries to defend the Communist doctrine and its territorial acquisitions. It was in this speech that the First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party repeated the words of Victor Hugo (1802-1885) on the United States of Europe, uttered in 1849:
[…] the day will come when you, France, you, Russia, you, Italy, you, England, you Germany — all of you, all the nations of the continent — will, without losing your distinguishing features and your splendid distinctiveness, merge inseparably into some high society and form a European brotherhood … the day will come when only the battlefield will be markets open for trade and minds open to ideas .
President Mikhail Gorbachev at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, 6 July 1989 (Photo capture INA)
In this speech, Gorbachev gave a broad explanation of his European Home concept and concluded that, by uniting, Europeans would be able to address the challenges of the 21st century.
[…] We are convinced that what they need is one Europe — peaceful and democratic, a Europe that maintains all its diversity and common humanistic ideas, a prosperous Europe that extends its hand to the rest of the world. A Europe that confidently advances into the future. It is in such a Europe that we visualise our own future .
At the time, this Soviet project, with its increasingly social-democrat orientation, was strongly supported by French President François Mitterrand (1916-1996) who tried to bolster its content, notably when he outlined the following plan on television on 31 December 1989:
On the basis of the Helsinki agreements, I expect to see the birth of a European Confederation, in the true sense of the word, in the 1990s, which will involve all states of our continent in a common organisation with continuous exchange, peace and security .
In Mitterrand’s view, the Pan-European union, the confederation he announced in his speech at the Elysée Palace, was not intended to replace the EEC.
In this context, the Warsaw Pact member countries and the NATO countries signed the Paris Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Likewise, in the wake of this, Moscow endorsed the Charter for a New Europe, adopted by the 34 countries at the end of the same summit, organised ahead of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) of 19-21 November 1990 . This charter dealt with respect for democratic pluralism and human rights and freedoms, and it aimed to open a new era:
We, the Heads of State or Government of the States participating in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, have assembled in Paris at a time of profound change and historic expectations. The era of confrontation and division of Europe has ended. We declare that henceforth our, relations will be founded on respect and co-operation. Europe is liberating itself from the legacy of the past. The courage of men and women, the strength of the will of the peoples and the power of the ideas of the Helsinki Final Act have opened a new era of democracy, peace and unity in Europe .
Hopes were clearly very high. In fact, according to Professor Hiski Haukkala, by signing the Paris Charter, Gorbachev signaled the end of a competing Soviet normative agenda for the future development of the European international society. Once again it was Europe’s turn to condition Russia’s place in Europe .
3. The seeds of a future problem
However, in late June 1991, after the Conference of the European Confederation held in Prague, on the initiative of François Mitterrand and endorsed by Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), President of Czechoslovakia, it seemed that it was a failure . Mitterrand’s former advisor on the matter wrote that, in this case, the French President’s only mistake was being right too soon. His clear thinking collided with the convergence of conservatism (that of the Americans, who primarily wanted to maintain their influence in Europe) and impatience (that of the countries of Eastern Europe, who were keen to climb aboard the Community train) . The acceleration of the processes of opening up to the countries of the East, German reunification, and the hostility of the United States to a process in which they were not involved caused the demise of the Confederation and the Common Home . Jacques Lévesque, Professor at UQAM, expressed it thus:
The rapid and unexpected collapse of the regimes of Eastern Europe brought about the ruin of Gorbachev’s ideology of transition and European policy by depriving it of the essential drivers for its implementation and caused the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself .
In December 1991, Gorbachev’s USSR imploded in favour of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), dominated by the Russian Federation.
In spring 1992, after these events, Andrei Kozyrev, Foreign Minister under Russian President Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007), stressed the future importance for Russia of being part of the European structures and confirmed the value of active participation in the European process. Use of the norms and expertise accumulated in the European context would, he observed, be of great help in solving the internal problems of Russia and of the other former Soviet republics. Under his influence, Russia applied for membership of the Council of Europe in May 1992, joining it on 28 February 1996 . This was a significant step, too often forgotten. In November 1992, Russia also entered into negotiations with the EEC with a view to a partnership and cooperation agreement on shared democratic values, respect for human rights, and entrepreneurship. This agreement was signed on 24 June 1994 in Corfu (Italy), where Russia and the European Union declared themselves mutual strategic partners . This was another important step in the rapprochement between Russia and Europe. This rapprochement was not merely a signature on paper: from 1990 to 1994, the EEC was responsible for 60% of the international aid to Russia via the TACIS programme , and it became one of Moscow’s leading commercial partners, representing more than a third of Russia’s foreign trade .
This process of rapprochement suffered as a result of NATO’s marginalisation of Russia during the Balkan wars . This marginalisation triggered anti-Western sentiments and cost Kozyrev his job, despite his efforts to bring about, in the face of increasingly strong Russian nationalist pressure, a switch from his policy to a defence of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a vital interest of Russia .
In January 1996, Kozyrev was replaced by Yevgeny Primakov (1929-2015). A brilliant academic who spoke several languages, including Arabic and French, Primakov was in favour of a multipolar diplomacy in which Russia would assume a Eurasian power role, including in the ‘near abroad’ countries of the former Soviet republics. This multipolarity was viewed on the other side of the Atlantic as a desire to harm the United States on all fronts . Europe, however, was still a favoured partner of Russia when a strengthened partnership agreement was signed in November 1997 . The attractiveness of Europe for the Russians had lost the euphoria of the early days, especially as Brussels was showing increasing irritation through its constant criticisms, particularly concerning the Chechen question. In March 1999, it was the unilateral intervention triggered by the US Administration in Kosovo which caused a crisis with NATO; it reached its climax with the occupation by Russian paratroopers of Slatina-Pristina airport on 12 June 1999 . This was also the time of the NATO expansion to include the “countries of the East”.
The US leaders and their West German counterparts skilfully derailed Gorbachev’s plans, offering NATO membership to East Germany, without making any formal promises, not in writing at any rate, on the future of the alliance . But Mary Elise Sarotte, Professor of history at the University of Southern California, highlighted this when she recalled that James Baker, former Secretary of State under George H. W. Bush (1924-2018), from 1989 to 1993, had written in his memoirs: almost every achievement contains within its success the seeds of a future problem. She observed that, by design, Russia was left on the periphery of a post-Cold War Europe. A young KGB officer serving in East Germany in 1989 offered his own recollection of the era in an interview a decade later, in which he remembered returning to Moscow full of bitterness at how “the Soviet Union had lost its position in Europe” .
His name was Vladimir Putin, and he would one day have the power to act on that bitterness .
4. Outstretched hand and closed fist
The arrival of Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin took place against a background of détente with the West, when the post-9/11 war on terror and the development of energy cooperation with Western Europe were major factors.
As the first Russian leader to address the Bundestag, in September 2001, Vladimir Putin began his speech in Russian then continued at length in the language of Goethe, Schiller and Kant. He underlined the importance of European culture by recalling the significant contribution made by Russia to that culture which, he noted, has known no borders and has always been a common asset. And he continued:
As for European integration, we not just support these processes, but we are looking to them with hope. We view them as a people who have learned the lesson of the Cold War and the peril of the ideology of occupation very well. But here, I think, it would be pertinent to add that Europe did not gain from that division either.
It is my firm conviction that in today’s rapidly changing world, in a world witnessing truly dramatic demographic changes and an exceptionally high economic growth in some regions, Europe also has an immediate interest in promoting relations with Russia.
No one calls in question the great value of Europe’s relations with the United States. I am just of the opinion that Europe will reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent centre of world politics soundly and for a long time if it succeeds in bringing together its own potential and that of Russia, including its human, territorial and natural resources and its economic, cultural and defense potential .
Alongside this outstretched hand, the Kremlin leader lamented the objections that remained with the West and demanded loyalty from NATO by questioning the soundness of the expansion to the East and bemoaning the inability to reach an agreement on antimissile defense systems. Closing his speech about German-Russian relations, Vladimir Putin spoke of his conviction that Germany and Russia were turning over a new page in their relations, thereby making our joint contribution to building a common European home .
In the years that followed, Europe became the principal commercial partner of a Russia whose GDP growth reached 7% per year from 2000 to 2007 . This favourable climate meant that the Russian-European Summit in St Petersburg in May 2003 was a great success. At this Summit, the Russian and European diplomats defined four spaces: a common economic space, a common space of freedom, security and justice, a common space of cooperation in the field of external security, and a common space on research and education . The Moscow Summit of May 2005 outlined a series of roadmaps for the implementation of these cooperation spaces founded on security and stability. The Russians and Europeans agreed to actively promote them in a mutually beneficial manner, through close result-oriented EU-Russia collaboration and dialogue, thereby contributing effectively to creating a greater Europe without dividing lines and based on common values .
However, once again the geopolitical context collapsed. The Chechen terrorist attacks in Moscow (2002) and in Beslan (2004), the effects of the eastward expansion of the European Union in 2004 to include eight post-communist countries, meaning that Russia’s ‘near abroad’ – especially Belarus and Ukraine – became Europe’s ‘near abroad’, and the suspicion of European support for the colour revolutions – Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004, and Kyrgyzstan in 2005 – led to a new Russian distrust of Europe. Simultaneously, the blatant human rights violations of Vladimir Putin’s regime and especially the assassination, in 2006, of Moscow-based journalist Anna Politkovskaya dashed the European hopes that had arisen from the 2003 Summit.
It was a frustrated Vladimir Putin who attended the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy on 10 February 2007. As Professor Richard Sakwa from the University of Kent wrote, Putin, who was probably the most European leader his country had ever known, intended to bring his country into a new phase of international relations . The Russian president issued a direct challenge to the unipolar model established by the role of the United States in the world and advocated a return to a multipolar world which took account of the economic realities of the planet: China, India, and BRICS, including Russia, had emerged, he pointed out. And although the Kremlin leader at the end of his mandate again evoked the idea of “the great European family”, he mainly denounced the insecurity which the NATO expansion was causing at the Russian borders, stating:
I think it is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernisation of the Alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? 
When the new president Dmitri Medvedev entered office on 7 May 2008, all this tension seemed to be forgotten. The Foreign Policy Concept which the President of the Russian Federation approved on 15 July 2008 called for strategic relations to be established with the European Union on a solid, modern legal basis and for a legal space to be created under the auspices of the Council of Europe which would extend across the whole of Europe.
The main objective of the Russian foreign policy on the European track is to create a truly open, democratic system of regional collective security and cooperation ensuring the unity of the Euro-Atlantic region, from Vancouver to Vladivostok, in such a way as not to allow its new fragmentation and reproduction of bloc-based approaches which still persist in the European architecture that took shape during the Cold War period. This is precisely the essence of the initiative aimed at concluding a European security treaty, the elaboration of which could be launched at a pan-European summit .
Thereupon, Moscow called for the construction of a genuinely unified Europe, without dividing lines, through equal interaction between Russia, the European Union and the United States. In addition, since Russia was asserting itself as the biggest European State with a multinational and multiconfessional society and centuries-old history, the Kremlin offered to play a constructive role in ensuring a civilizational compatibility of Europe, and harmonious integration of religious minorities, including in view of the various existing migration trends. The new policy concept also called for a strengthening of the role of the Council of Europe, and of the OSCE, and announced the desire of the Russian Federation to develop its relations with the European Union, a major trade, economic and foreign-policy partner. Russia also stated that it was interested in establishing a strategic partnership with the European Union and mutually beneficial relations with the countries in the Union .
The ambiguities between the Atlantic democracies also increased. Whereas the United States primarily viewed NATO as a leadership instrument whose role included bringing partners together on missions that might extend beyond the European theatre, the countries of Eastern Europe essentially saw NATO as an instrument of peace in Europe. For their part, the new members from Central and Eastern Europe viewed the Alliance as a bulwark against a Russia which they still feared. As Charles Kupchan wrote, the preoccupation of these countries rendered them open to a Euro-Atlantic order focused more on NATO than on the European Union. This analysis led the professor of International Relations at Georgetown University in Washington, to argue in favour of allowing Russia to join the Atlantic Alliance .
To respond to NATO’s continued expansion eastwards, the new military doctrine of Moscow regarded the enlargement of NATO as a major external threat, especially when the alliance contemplated allowing Georgia and Ukraine to join. In anticipation of the annual OSCE meeting in Athens, on 1 December 2009, Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation since 2004, presented a draft treaty on European security, which worried the Europeans and irritated Washington. This reorganisation of the security architecture was based on the idea that any action taken by one of the parties, individually or collectively, including as part of an international organisation, alliance or military coalition, had to take into account the interests of the other signatory parties to the treaty. The European Union responded politely, while drawing attention to the fact that this new proposal should in no way affect the current security obligations of the Member States of the Union .
In 2010, a number of initiatives appeared to offer a new momentum in relations between Russia and the West. At the United Nations, Russia voted in favour of sanctions against Iran, which was perceived positively in Brussels. As Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin welcomed his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk in Katyn and expressed remorse regarding the massacre carried out in Poland in 1940 on the orders of Stalin (1878-1953). In April 2010, in Prague, President Dmitri Medvedev signed the New Start Treaty with President Barack Obama with the aim of limiting the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The following month, NATO troops, at the cordial invitation of the Russians, marched in Red Square to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazism . Efforts were also maintained on both sides to cement certain cooperation activities. At the EU-Russia Summit at Rostov-on-Don, in spring 2010, a Partnership for Modernisation (P4M) was launched in a relaxed atmosphere, but it failed to deliver any significant improvement in a relationship which some people already viewed as a compromise . It is true that there was a growing feeling of unease in Europe over the reliability of the Russian energy supply . The conflict in South Ossetia between Russia and a Georgia which seemed to be aligning itself with the West also increased tensions at diplomatic and military levels.
5. Relations during the stalemate
In July 2013, however, Russian minister Sergey Lavrov published an article in the highly respected international academic publication, the Journal of Common Market Studies; the former Russian representative at the UN (1994-2004) stated that:
European history cannot be imagined without Russia, just as the history of Russia cannot be imagined apart from Europe. For centuries, Russia has been involved in shaping European reality in its political, economic and cultural dimensions. Yet the debate of how close Russia and its west European partners can be and to what degree Russia is a European Country has also been going on for centuries.
Minister Lavrov also pointed out that, in recent years, […] we have an unprecedented opportunity to fulfil the dream of a united Europe . Nevertheless, it was debatable whether that opportunity had passed.
President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy at the European University in St. Petersburg, 5 September 2013 (Photo European University)
Less than two months later, on 5 September 2013, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who was in St Petersburg for the G20 meeting, delivered a lecture at the European University. His words echoed those of Victor Hugo in 1849 and of Vladimir Putin in 2001, among others:
[…] We Europeans, we know one another. We – the French, the Prussians then Germans, the Swedes, the Dutch, the Italians, the Poles, the British, the Russians, and all the others, we have read each other’s books, we listened to each other’s music, we believed in the same God, we have engaged in battles between various sides, we spoke and traded with, and learned from each other, and at times have misunderstood each other. Perhaps we are, as has been said, one “European family”. But then again, one must be careful with a word like that, because to me it immediately brings to mind the first line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”! I would say that the European family can be happy in its own way. I would say that the European family can be happy in its own way .
However, as with Putin’s speech in the Bundestag, the remainder of the text hinted at problems, with Herman Van Rompuy observing:
We share common borders, and also common neighbours. Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova which matter to us both, have to define their own path. But in our view, for Ukraine, an Association Agreement with the European Union would not damage the country’s long-standing ties with Russia. Why should it have to be a case of ‘either/or’? 
The creation of the Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in 2010 and the ambition to transform it rapidly into a genuine Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) could be interpreted as an initiative aimed at countering the growing presence of the European Union in the post-Soviet area. The Euromaidan demonstrations, which broke out in Ukraine in 2013 at the refusal of President Viktor Yanukovych to sign the Association Agreement with the EU in favour of an agreement with Russia, seemed to realise the Kremlin’s worst fears of seeing its ‘near abroad’ grow in importance.
The annexation of Crimea in March 2014, and in particular the shooting down over the Donetsk region of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on 17 July 2014, triggered European economic sanctions. These sanctions accelerated the breakdown in relations, especially as they significantly encouraged the rapprochement between Brussels and Kiyv: on 16 September 2014, the Association Agreement was ratified by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the European Parliament. Recalling the statement by US Vice-President Joe Biden that the American leadership had cajoled Europe into imposing sanctions on Russia even though the EU had initially been opposed, Sergey Lavrov pointed out that, for several years, Russia had over-estimated the independence of the European Union and even big European countries. The Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation repeated this view in 2017 .
Echoing the words of Russian historian Sergei Medvedev, relations between Europe and Russia had then reached stalemate . At a meeting in Brussels on 14 March 2016 chaired by the Italian politician Federica Mogherini, European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Foreign Ministers of the 28 Member States unanimously adopted five principles aimed at guiding the Union’s policy on Russia:
– implementation of the Minsk agreement on the Donbas region of September 2014 and February 2015 as the key condition for any substantial change in the European Union’s stance towards Russia;
– strengthened relations with the EU’s Eastern partners and other neighbours, in particular in Central Asia;
– strengthening the resilience of the EU (for example, energy security, hybrid threats, or strategic communication);
– the need for selective engagement with Russia on issues of interest to the EU;
– the need to engage in people-to-people contacts and support Russian civil society.
These clearly stated positions illustrated but also contributed to the estrangement between Europe and the Russian Federation. Russia was also, and increasingly, openly ignoring the Union as an institution, as demonstrated by the visit to Moscow, in February 2021, of Josep Borrell, which coincided with the expulsion of European diplomats in the case involving Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny . Russia seems to be gradually detaching itself from Europe, wrote the EU High Representative upon his return from this difficult trip.
The European Union’s commitment towards the Ukrainians had become increasingly evident since the Russian aggression of 24 February 2022. At the Foreign Affairs Council of 17 October 2022, the ministers took a number of important decisions after being informed of the military escalation and the strikes on Kiyv by the Russian army. They agreed to establish an EU military assistance mission to support the Ukrainian armed forces. The mission would train around 15,000 soldiers on EU territory. They also agreed to allocate €500 million in respect of the European Peace Facility to finance supplies intended for the Ukrainian forces, thus increasing military assistance to Ukraine to €3.1 billion.
This commitment clearly provided arguments for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when he declared, on 20 October 2022, that the supplies of weapons from the European Union to Kiyv made it a “stakeholder in the conflict” in Ukraine and that countries who supply weapons to Ukraine were “sponsors of terrorism” .
6. Conclusion: power is not an emotion
6.1. From Kant to Hobbes…
Since their earliest contacts, the countries and peoples of Western Europe have had complex relations with Russia. The analysis of these relations is based on the preliminary questions of, firstly, what Russia is and, secondly, what Europe is, questions which are impossible to answer. Intuitively, we feel that it is an issue of temporality: the complex relationship between our present and our past, between history and future: the world to come, aspirations, plans.
The European Union and Russia do not use the same geopolitical grammar , since, in Moscow’s view, Europe often discredits itself through its soft power, which is perceived by the Kremlin, and by other governments, as a weak and haphazard hieratic policy. The shift in the discourse of several representatives of the European Union since the aggression in March 2022 has also surprised observers. This was the case when, on 13 October 2022, European Commission Vice-President and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, declared, in response to the bellicose rhetoric of Vladimir Putin, that a Russian nuclear attack against Ukraine would provoke such a powerful answer that the Russian army would be annihilated . The nature and the legitimacy of such statements is debatable. As Kathleen R. McNamara, Professor at Georgetown University and an expert in European issues, wrote in an article of The Washington Post entitled Is Venus becoming Mars?, whereas, previously, the European Union had sought to rise above the fray in the struggles between major powers, attempting to offer a peaceful alternative to violence and coercion, European leaders seemed to be trying to remake the European DNA and become a traditional power player . This change was particularly surprising to McNamara since, in her book on constructing authority in the Union, published in 2017, she argued that the policy of the European Union, since it sought to complement rather than compete with the nation States that form the Union, rendered its authority inherently fragile .
The American neo-conservative historian and political scientist Robert Kagan, who was based in Brussels in the early 2000s, had also described the European Union as a particularly weak and passive actor in international relations, denouncing it as entering a posthistorical paradise of peace and relative prosperity by referencing the realisation of the Perpetual Peace of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), published in 1795 . Kagan also expressed in a very gendered and well-known phrase that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. He observed that rather than viewing the collapse of the Soviet Union as an opportunity to flex global muscles, Europeans took it as an opportunity to cash in on a sizable peace dividend .
Kagan, who wrote Of Paradise and Power in 2003, denounced both Gaullism and Ostpolitik, as well as the European conviction that the United States’ stance towards the Soviet Union was too confrontational, too militaristic, and too dangerous. In this work, which focused on relations between the United States and Europe, Kagan drew a distinction between Western Europe, especially France and Germany, and the nations of Central and Eastern Europe, which, because of their different histories, had a historically ingrained fear of Russian power and, therefore, a more American perception of Hobbesian realities . To explain this analysis, it is worth noting that in Leviathan, his famous treaty published in 1651, the English philosopher Hobbes (1588-1679) stated that:
[…] Fear of oppression disposes a man to strike first, or to seek aid through society, for there is no other way for a man to secure his life and liberty.
Men who distrust their own subtlety are in better shape for victory than those who suppose themselves to be wise or crafty. For the latter love to consult, whereas the former (fearing to be outdone in any negotiations) prefer to strike first .
Yet since fear was a communicative passion, it placed men in a state of perpetual defiance in which Hobbes calls for a war of every man against every man.
In this war of every man against every man nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place there. Where there is no common power, there is no law; and where there is no law, there is no injustice. In war the two chief virtues are force and fraud. Justice and injustice are not among the faculties of the body or of the mind .
The French philosopher and political scientist Jean-Marc Ferry, who taught at the Free University of Brussels and at the University of Nantes, offered a rather curt criticism of Kagan’s analysis, stating that the American had not understood the philosophical breakthrough which meant that the European Union, and in particular some of its Member States (France, Germany and Belgium), were leaning towards the increasingly important perspective of a cosmopolitan rule of law . Ferry observed that the nations of Europe were weaker half a century ago than they were today, including in relation to America.
Today, they have the power – he continues – to assert a “Kantian” orientation towards the United States.
Ferry criticised Kagan for confusing and conflating power and violence. The philosopher pointed out that Europe’s challenge was precisely that it could have power in Europe without resorting to violence.
As “Kantians”, Europeans rely on a power which is a moral and a critical power rather than a physical power. […] It is clear that if, like the United States, one claims always to be right and only ever to fight for the Righteous (since adversaries embody evil, we ourselves would embody good), it would be difficult to have a genuine discourse on Right. It demands a historical – as it were – sensitivity to what Hegel called “causality of fate”. There is, on the part of the Americans, barely any serious attempt to understand the historical reasons why the vast majority of the States is organised in an authoritarian, or even totalitarian, way; and that, therefore, it is unrealistic to want to introduce democracy by force without considering the context. However, Europeans are undoubtedly sensitive to history – almost overly so .
Returning to Josep Borrell, in his speech to the ambassadors on 10 October 2022, the High Representative of the European Union endorsed the view that we Europeans are too much Kantians and not enough Hobbesians . As the researcher Kathleen McNamara noted in The Washington Post, the reference to Hobbes is a striking reminder of the Kagan’s disdainful view of the European Union as a weak, cosmopolitan actor . However, McNamara also observed that there was no robust military capacity behind the threat uttered by Josep Borrell on 13 October that would ensure the annihilation of the Russian army.
This view is also repeated more scathingly by Dmitri Medvedev, Vice-President of the Russian Security Council, in Pravda on 14 October 2022, when he described Josep Borrel as a great strategist and great military leader in a non-existent European army .
6.2. More RealPolitik for Europe?
In a collective work published in September 2022 entitled “Ukraine, the first global war”, Nicole Gnesotto observed that, for Europe to be a power, its responsibility would involve agreeing to examine its principles against reality. (…) An end to the Ukrainian crisis, she points out, assumes that Europe accepts that it must go beyond the diplomacy of values and return to Realpolitik . In her recent work “Europe: adapt or perish”, the French historian recalls the importance of the report produced by the former Belgian statesman Pierre Harmel (1911-2009) in 1967 for the North Atlantic Council. This new edition from the new alliance evangelist, to echo the words of the former Foreign Minister in a speech in the Belgian Chamber , aimed not only to ensure a collective defence of the Atlantic area but also attempted to reduce East-West tensions. As Harmel wrote:
The easing of tensions is not the final objective: the ultimate goal of the Alliance is to achieve a just and lasting peaceful order in Europe, accompanied by the appropriate security guarantees, the ultimate goal of the alliance .
This purpose of the Harmel Exercise is still fundamentally relevant. Moreover, evoking the failure of an attempt to rebuild relations between Europe and Russia on the initiative of France in May 2021, Gnesotto called for military power to be put in its proper place, for it to be made an essential element of diplomatic credibility, a tool at the service of intelligence, negotiation, and persuasion .
It is said that now is not the time. But there will come a time when the grievances of the various parties on the ground will have to be taken into consideration .
However, this was also the conviction which Dominique de Villepin expressed very clearly when talking about innovation in diplomacy and in capacity to propose a new way: even, stated the former Prime Minister of France during the presidency of Jacques Chirac (1932-2019),
[…] when one has an adversary whom one believes to be in the wrong, a war criminal, evil, one must go part of the way. Otherwise, nothing happens .
The French sociologist Edgar Morin goes further: he outlines, even for today, the foundations of a peaceful compromise between the warring parties. At the end of his analysis, he advocates for Ukraine a neutrality similar to Austria, or even European integration. And he adds that it would be important to envisage, in future, the inclusion of Russia in the European Union as a positive outcome of Russian-Western relations. Anticipating possible strong reactions from readers, Morin observes that:
The anti-Russian hysteria, not only in Ukraine but also in the West, and especially in France, should eventually decline and disappear, in the same way as the nationalist hysteria of Nazi Germany and the anti-German hysteria which identified Germany and Nazism .
In his work on perpetual peace, the great Prussian philosopher Kant observed that, in any event, the battlefield is the only court in which States argue for their rights; but victory, through which they win the case, does not decide in favour of their cause . Admittedly, this was before the United Nations tried unsuccessfully, after two global holocausts, to establish the Perpetual Peace he held so dear.
Nevertheless, I feel that Europe must not abandon its Kantian ambition to favour the power of law over that of violence. However, one can concur with Henry Kissinger’s view that the most effective foreign policy is one that marries the principles of power and legitimacy , provided that the legitimacy is also the legitimacy of Law: power and legitimacy in a Europe which is faithful to its values and avoids the American debate between deep-engagers who favour US leadership via NATO and restrainers who favour disengagement and observe that their troops have remained twice as long on operations since the end of the Cold War than during that period .
It is for the Europeans themselves to take responsibility for who they are; if possible from the Atlantic to the Urals.
Admittedly, the price to pay for the Union seems very high today, since it involves having, simultaneously, a European diplomacy equal to the task, in other words one which relies more on power than on emotion, a military power which guards and protects us and gives us independence from the United States, and a diplomatic power which offers a genuine opportunity to communicate with a voice other than violence.
 This text originated in a lecture presented at the Blue-Point in Liège on 24 October 2022 at the initiative of Rotary International. I would like to thank Caroline Goffinet and Alain Lesage for their initiative. I am grateful to my historian colleague Paul Delforge for his careful review of the manuscript and his suggestions. As the subject is particularly vast, we will refer to the recent abundant scientific literature on the subject, including: Tom CASIER and Joan DE BARDELEBEN ed., EU-Russia Relations in Crisis, Understanding Diverging Perceptions, Abingdon, Routledge, 2018. – David MAXINE, Jackie GOWER, Hiski HAUKKALA ed., National Perspectives on Russia European Foreign Policy in the Making, Abingdon, Routledge, 2013. – Tuomas FORSBERG & Hiski HAUKKALA, The European Union and Russia, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. – Romanova, Tatiana ROMANOVA and David MAXINE ed., The Routledge Handbook of EU-Russia Relations, Structures, Actors, Issues, Abingdon: Routledge, 2021. – Stephan KEUKELEIRE & Tom DELREUX, The Foreign Policy of the European Union, Bloomsbury Academic, 2022.
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Vidéo : https://www.c-span.org/video/?166424-1/terrorist-attacks-us
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 The stones and concrete blocks of the Berlin Wall have long been distributed as souvenirs. But we should not forget that the fall of the Berlin Wall was possible thanks to a historic choice – one that was also made by our people, the people of Russia – a choice in favour of democracy, freedom, openness and a sincere partnership with all the members of the big European family. Vladimir PUTIN, Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy, February 10, 2007.http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/24034
Video : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLjG1THpeNQ
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 Stalemate may be the most appropriate definition of the present quality of EU – Sergei MEDVEDEV, The Stalemate in EU-Russia Relations, Between ‘Sovereignty’ and ‘Europeanisation, in Ted HOPF ed, Russia’s European Choice, p. 215–232, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. – H. HAUKKALA, From Cooperative to Contested Europe?, p. 30. – Fabienne BOSSUYT & Peter VAN ELSUWEGE ed, Principled Pragmatism in Practice, The EU’s Policy Towards Russia after Crimea, Leiden, Brill, 2021. – Derek AVERRE & Kataryna WOLCZUK eds, The Ukraine Conflict: Security, Identity and Politics in the Wider Europe, Abingdon, Routledge, 2018. – Marco SIDDI, The partnership that failed: EU-Russia relations and the war in Ukraine. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/362542921_The_partnership_that_failed_EU-Russia_relations_and_the_war_in_Ukraine.
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See also: Facts and figures about EU-Russia Relations. Nov. 4, 2022. https://www.eeas.europa.eu/sites/default/files/eeas-eu-russia_relation-en_2021-07.pdf
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