Following the enlargement of the European Union (EU) in 2004, EU policy embraced the goal of expanding the zone of prosperity and peace to encompass broader Europe beyond the EU’s own borders. The purpose was to avoid the emergence of a new divide between ‘insider’ members and ‘outsider’ countries, to assure security for the EU’s own population and to allow partner countries to partake in the benefits of European integration. However, in relation to the EU’s most important Eastern neighbours, Ukraine and Russia, by 2014 exactly the opposite outcome had unfolded. Europe’s post-war borders were breached through Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a new civil war broke out in in eastern Ukraine, and a propaganda war and spiral of sanctions created a widening rift between Russia and the West.

This research project investigates why EU policy toward the east failed to produce the desired outcome, as evidenced in the Ukraine crisis of 2014. It further analyzes how this failure has influenced subsequent EU policy towards Russia in key policy arenas.

Theory and Hypotheses

Drawing on a constructivist theoretical framework, the project examines two hypotheses to explain the crisis. The first suggests that the EU’s eastern policy was rooted in a combination of normative commitments and technical methods, which led the EU to overlook the geopolitical implications of its actions and inadvertently bring it into conflict with Russia’s construction of its own interests. A second hypothesis sees this EU policy as a consequence of a compromise between disparate views of EU Member States about the EU’s eastern policy, with these differences themselves rooted in divergent national interests and differing historical constructions of the relationship with Russia.

After examining causes of the crisis, the research project is exploring whether and how the EU has reframed its policies and its decision-making processes based on ‘learning’ from this crisis. The project explores the nature of EU policy change and continuity, based a typology of crisis response.  It also examines whether Member States differences continue to obstruct effective policy and whether mechanisms have been developed to address this problem. Finally, to what extent will the EU acknowledge and embrace its geopolitical impact, and how has this affected how it deals with Russia?

Policy Arenas

The study examines decision-making processes, policy outcomes, and changing narratives in four policy arenas which have been key arenas of interaction or contention between the EU, its, Member States and Russia:

(a)  The EU’s common defense and security policy, and EU receptiveness to a new European continental security regime

Security issues have taken on increased salience in the eastern neighbourhood in the face of a perceived Russian threat, with particular attention to vulnerabilities of EU border countries (e.g., the Baltic States). The earlier failure to satisfy Russia’s expressed security concerns and rebuffs to Russian proposals for a new continental security architecture were an important backdrop to Russian actions in Ukraine. This explores the extent to which the EU and key Member States are engaged in a reframing of European security in light of the crisis.

(b)  Taking account of the ‘Russian factor’ in EU policy towards other eastern neighbours

Whereas prior to the Ukraine crisis the EU rejected, in principle, Russian ‘interference’ in its bilateral relations with other partner countries, the crisis has made evident the capacity of the ‘elephant in the room’ to impact EU policy success. This project modules assesses the degree to which, and how, the EU  fundamentally reassesses assumptions about Russia’s role in its bilateral relations with other eastern partners

(c)  EU responses to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU)

The Eurasian Customs Union, formed in 2010, and then the EEU, launched in 2015, represent a Russian effort to devise a regional integration plan for non-EU post-Soviet states that would reassert Russia’s influence in the face of an expanding EU and NATO. In light of the EU’s general support for the principle of regional integration, this section examines reactions of the EU and key EU Member States to this Russian initiative.

(d)  Energy interdependence and security

This project module examines possible changes in the construction of energy security as it affects EU and Member States and considers whether the traditional EU understanding of economic interdependence as a guarantor of peace is sustained.