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Russia and the European Union (EU)


The European Union (former EEC) has been expanding ever since its inception in 1957. Formerly a an exclusive club of only six West European nations, now it includes many formerly communist countries of Eastern Europe, among them three ex-Soviet republics. More former Soviet republics, in particular Ukraine and Georgia, have also expressed interest in joining. Considering the power of attraction with which European Union draws its Eastern neighbors into its fold, it is remarkable that neither Russia nor EU have ever expressed any significant interest in Russia's inclusion in the EU. One is left wondering about the reason why Russia is not part of the united Europe. The answer lies on Russia's greatness, which is disproportional when compared to the current EU states.  Russia is the largest country in the world; it has the largest population of all European countries, and is a super strong military power. In addition, the processes of democratization and economic dependency have made these two regions essentially distinct and kept them from melting in a same bloc.

The reason why some ex Soviet states were now able to join the EU is rooted in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which indirectly resulted in bringing the ex Soviet republics Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia much closer to the political and cultural ideologies of the EU. Namely, they won independence from USSR during the Bolshevik Revolution and kept it until WWII.  During this interwar period, as well as throughout their earlier history, they maintained close ties with Western neighbors, especially Finland, Poland, and Germany.  Therefore, they are also more westernized than Russia. They are mostly Catholic or Protestant Christians like most other Europeans, not Eastern Orthodox like the Russians, and were also able to maintain a much lower level of corruption than the one found in Russia. Just as importantly, these countries are small in area and population. Because of their modest size, they do not impose any kind of threat to the EU. These are all relevant aspects that I believe made it easier for those ex-Soviet Countries to be absorbed in the EU without major obstacles.

Russia may not be quite as Westernized as the three Baltic States, but it is also culturally part of Europe and shares the same history. Russian elite culture became an integral part of European culture during the reign of Emperor Peter the Great, who ruled from 1682 to 1725. In order to make Russian elite culture more similar to West European elite culture, he moved the capital city of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg, which remained Russia's capital until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. But unlike in most West European countries, the development of capitalism in Russia was delayed because of the weak Russian bourgeoisie, the effects of competition from much more developed West, and the capacity of pre-capitalist structures to survive.  During the communist era, relations with the rest of Europe were mostly hostile. The exception was WWII, when Russian people paid a very heavy price of over 20 million people died out of 60 million worldwide, when attempting to defeat the Nazis. This figure refers to the whole former USSR, not only Russia. Russia and the EU share Christianity as a common religious faith, and the fact that in both places a large proportion of people seldom or never go to church is yet another similarity in the way people in both places practice religion. It is true that most Russian citizens are Orthodox Christians while most people in the EU countries are either Catholic or Protestant, but three EU member countries are also mostly Orthodox Christian: Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania. Furthermore, since the 18th century, Russia has eagerly been taking European ideas of every kind. This went to such extremes that Russian aristocracy spoke French more than Russian, meaning that they were culturally closer to France and therefore to Western Europe. Also, the idea of Communism was not originally Russian. It was developed by Karl Marx, a German 19th century economist and philosopher, and his ideas, known as Marxism, spread rapidly throughout Europe, including the tsarist Russia. Therefore, even Marxism, which gave rise to the Soviet Bolshevik Revolution, was an import from Germany, a current member of the EU. Cultural influences between Western Europe and Russia never traveled only one way. Many people in West European countries appreciate Russia's famous authors of the 19th century literature, such as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, and the poet Pushkin. They also share the same appreciation for Russian ballet, classical music, including the opera "Boris Godunov", and pop culture. In 2008 Russia even won the Eurovision song contest.

Economic dependence had pushed EU and Russia far from each other. EU is a core economy where advanced economic activities are located, such as manufacturing, banking, and the process of primary products, and others. This has been the case for long time, while Russia as a semi-periphery economy still maintains an important position in the world's economy standing in between core and those periphery economies that are more restricted to the production of primary products. Russia trades with both core and periphery economies and consequently generates mid-level profits and wages margins.

Based on Walt Whitman Rostow's theory of economic growth, Kaya Ford states Rostow's five economic stages of achievability, of which I perceive Russia economic achievement behind of that one in western European countries that primary formed the EU. The first stage is the traditional society characterized by subsistence activity in which agriculture sector predominates. The second stage is a transitional phase that works as a precondition for the economy to take off; in this stage trade had began, also transportation had improved to facilitate trade, income has risen, and people could have savings. The third stage is when the take off is reached and heavy industrialization prevailed; the previous agrarian workers now work in factories, there are more profits and also demand for workers, services, and industries keep attracting more industries. The fourth stage is the drive to maturity that after a relatively long time had passed; the economy becomes diverse and complex, with considerable achievements in the technology sector, making the economy less dependence on imports. The fifth stage is the prevalence of mass consumption characterized by strong service sector, high income per capita income, and consumer durable industries growth.

By following this theory of growth, I believe that Western European countries had passes through all the Rostow's economic growth stages and are located in the fifth stage of high mass consumption because high real income per head had risen in those countries. All the while, Russia had passed three economic growth stages and is now stranded in the forth stage struggling on the drive for economic maturity to rise real income per head. However, this is an understandable scenario if one takes into consideration that Russia is still a semi-periphery country and had its economic take off later than the western European countries. In sum, Russia depends on EU more than the other way around. Russia exports mostly oil and gas and imports high-end products. But West Europe has almost no natural resources and therefore they also depend on Russia that sometimes decides to blackmails Europe. The Big EU member states lost colonial possessions, so they had to band together in order to play the role of world power. Russia still has Siberia and very large territory, so it is more confident about its great power status. Furthermore, Russia has gained more international autonomy because of its military power status, which helps them from suffering external pressure.

In spite of their common or at least closely related ideas, religion, and culture, Russia and the EU are not part of the same economic bloc. If they were, I believe more Russians would be seeking jobs in the Western markets, both in high-end and low-end jobs, while Russia would be flooded with Western investors and CEOs who would be bossing the Russians around and causing distress. Even though, today Russia enjoys a well-educated society with high levels of literacy, the best universities are still located in the western European countries and therefore competitiveness for the best jobs could be tougher for Russians. Nevertheless, Russia's citizens could benefit from the freedom to seek desirable job opportunities in Western Europe. But those well-educated western Europeans folks could also be very competitive for the desirable jobs in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Hypothetically, if Russia is to join, trade would be easier due to lower import and export customs barriers. The EU could benefit from bringing into its fold a country which could otherwise become an important economic, political, or even military rival in the future. EU would be able to secure a more reliable access to Russia's large reserves of oil, gas and other natural resources and expand its territory all the way to the fast growing markets of China.

Nonetheless, Russia's power structures are known for being too corrupt for EU standards. Russia's war in Chechnya and its aggressive stance to the neighboring Georgia and Ukraine is also a weak factor for their union. Human rights violations and instability in the Caucasus region, especially Chechnya also counts to Russia's weakness in a possible candidacy. After the extreme economic liberalism of President Boris Yeltsin, who ruled Russia in the 1990s, Russia became subjected to almost dictatorial power of its former president and now prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Russia still maintains a fragile democracy coupled with unstable financial institutions. In addition, due to Russia's great population of just over 140 million, and Russia's extremely large territory, along with mighty military power that in fact brought Russia into the G8 economic forum, of the seven richest countries in the world, plus Russia due to its military power. All this greatness of Russia could direct the EU into unwanted directions and therefore the EU in general prefers to keep Russia outside of its bloc. Furthermore, some existing EU member states, especially Poland and the three former Soviet countries, hold a strong distrust and historical resentment on Russia, and they would most likely reject Russia's candidacy.

It is not that Russia has shown much interest in joining Europe either. Russia sees itself as a great power paring with the US and China, and is not much attracted to becoming a mere member of the Brussels club. Russia's military power is still a potential threat, and Russia often seems to prefer to keep distance from most Western alliance organizations. I believe that Russia's elites and ordinary citizens are willing to sacrifice some of their incomes, quality of life, and freedoms for the sake of Russia's greatness and importance on the global stage. In EU, only Germany is economically larger than Russia when it comes to measure in purchasing power parity. Similarly to Russia, Germany was also previously seen as an intimidating economic and military power and is currently the most populous country in the EU. But unlike Russia, Germany received immense western influence from the United States, along with German's geographic location in West Europe that gave that country no other destiny other than belonging to the same political and socioeconomic bloc of EU. Unlike Germany after WWII, Russia was the communist superpower that competed with the United States for ideological and economic dominance worldwide throughout the Cold War and therefore worked on blocking out any western influence into Russia's society.

These two regions, despite their location as neighboring countries, have always dealt with democracy in different ways, which historically drew them apart from each other, and will continue to do so in the future. According to Dahl, there had been in history three significant waves in the development of democracy. It follows that the "First, that of incorporation, when mass of citizenry was gradually admitted into political society; second, that of representation, when the right to organize parties was accepted; and the third, that of organized opposition, when citizens won the right to appeal for votes against the government" (Caramani 117). In Russia, there was no democracy until 1991 and the level of incorporation of their citizens in politics remains low. As for representation, many parties exist, but only one party holds almost dictatorial power, The United Russia party of Prime Minister Putin. In contrast, most of the EU countries possess strong multi-party systems with high levels of freedom and public participation of people in public affairs.

Also, remarked by Dahl, the process of democratization had two different dimensions. The liberalization characterized by the right to be represented and rally opposition. Also, the inclusiveness dimension representing the participation and voting process. These two dimensions of democracy would be enough to compare paths towards mass democracy. Most of the nondemocratic countries liberalized without becoming more inclusive. These competitive oligarchies, by Dahl, include the "parliamentary regimes with restricted suffrage in the UK and France prior to the First World War. Non-democratic regimes that became more inclusive without liberalizing was classified as inclusive hegemonies" (Caramani 123). These also included the totalitarian fascist and communist regimes in the Nazi Germany and the Soviet bloc that normally worked the means for much less competitiveness on mass electoral methods. Even where democracy was more efficiently established, liberalized and became more inclusive, either simultaneously or in stages. "The regimes in question and others in the similar post-communist circumstances have usually not failed, or fallen back from democracy, there is increasing concern about the quality of the democracy they maintain"(Caramani 123).

In this sense, EU is most likely to be concerned about the quality of democracy in Russia, due to the weakness of its political party system, which is "an equally unworkable combination of decayed Soviet-era institutions and fledgling and fragile democratic practices" (Kort 230). There is also concern regarding Russia's courts obedience to the executive government along with their low levels of public participation in politics. It follows that Russian citizens in general seem to prefer staying away from politics in exchange for more stability and growing living standards, which they could not enjoy in the previous decade under President Yeltsin.

Russia also skipped the waves of democratization, mentioned by Huntington. The first wave of democracy which "lasted from 1826 to 1926, and was then reversed in part by the rise of fascism and authoritarianism in the 1920s and 1930s; the second wave came after the Second World War and was reserved in the 1960s and 1970s; and the third was initiated by Portugal in 1974 and reached explosive levels after 1989" (Caramani 111). It was not until the 1990s Russia had finally embraced democracy, while the western European countries that today are part of EU had gone through these waves of democratization and this situation plays a role when it comes to Russia's candidacy to join the EU.

Curious would be for some that the EU and Russia are naturally linked by land and near to each other, sharing much of common history, but are still apart far from being in the same economic bloc. But the EU could not invite Russia to join the EU bloc, because Russia may want to take over and rule the EU. Russia is way too great in territory, population, and military power, and furthermore has way too much ambition in the world affairs. The ex-Soviet countries that are now part of EU, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, were able to join the EU because they never represented any kind of threat to the EU, while other ex-Soviet countries that also do not represent any threat or greatness that Russia does, also have expressed interest to join.

The economic dependency between Russia and EU has proven to be unequal and shall keep them apart; a core and semi periphery, while Russia has aspirations to become a future core economy, today it is a good market for the core EU to sell their products. Further, Russia maintains a troublesome democratic regime, while the EU stands for an efficient democracy, a necessary political model for any serious EU candidacy. In addition, the idea of world domination through the communist system from the time when the USSR was a superpower in the 20th century, still seems to linger in Russian minds, also because the same communist ideology is about to bring China, along with their one-party rule, into the same position for the 21st century. Consequently, there are signs that a possible authoritarian wave may play a role in the world affairs in the future, and Russia undoubtedly and traditionally would like to strengthen its international leadership position and be part of it, instead of being part of the EU – unless another emerging superpower, such as China, begins to represent an unavoidable threat to Russia.

Work Cited

Caramani, Daniele. Comparative Politics. First edition publicized by Oxford University Press 2008: New York.

Ford, Kaya V. P. "Walt Whitman Rostow (1916- 2003)." Rostow's Stages of Development, (1916- 2003). April 22, 2004.

Kort, Michael. A Brief History of Russia. Ed. Boston University 2008: New York.

 

About the Author

Marcelo Pereira Cunha has a degree in Political Science

Latvia Military
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