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Policy brief | 15 June 2017

Damage Assessment: EU-Russia relations in crisis

Image of Lukasz Kulesa

Lukasz Kulesa |Deputy Head of Research, Polish Institute of International Affairs

Image of Ivan Timofeev

Ivan Timofeev |Director of Programs, Russian International Affairs Council

Image of Joseph Dobbs

Joseph Dobbs |Senior Officer, NATO Nuclear Policy Directorate

EU Russia Russia-West Relations Euro-Atlantic Security

A new Special Report edited by the European Leadership Network (ELN) and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) assesses the damage to EU-Russia relations after three years of crisis.

Featuring Russian and European experts, the report presents their analysis on fundamental aspects of deteriorating EU-Russia relations, including economic impact, political relations and people-to-people contact. For each of these areas the Russian experts present and assess developments inside their own country, while Western authors describe the situation at the EU level and in selected European Union countries.

Chapter 1: The polarisation of regional politics: The impact of the EU-Russia confrontation on countries in the common neighbourhood, by David Cadier & Samuel Charap

Chapter 2: The Impact of EU-Russia tensions on the economy of the EU, by Erica Moret & Maria Shagina

Chapter 3: Three years of tension: Russia-EU economic cooperation challenged, by Sergey Afontsev

Chapter 4: The impact of EU-Russia tensions on the politics of the EU and its Member States: Insecurity and Resolve, by Joseph Dobbs

Chapter 5: The impact of EU-Russia tensions on Russian politics, by Pavel Kanevskiy

Chapter 6: 2014: a watershed for the image of Russia among the citizens of EU member states, by Hanna Smith

Chapter 7: The impact of tensions between the EU and Russia at the people-to-people level, by Natalia Evtikhevich


The spring and summer of 2014 brought profound change in the character of the relationship between the European Union and Russia. The sequence of decisions which altered the pre-2014 status quo were taken in the context of the fast-developing crisis in and around Ukraine, and were meant to affect the policy calculus of the “other side”. Yet the choices made in 2014 set EU-Russia relations on a new course, one that is much more difficult to navigate than anyone could have anticipated.

Contrary to what many predicted, hoped or feared, EU solidarity over Russian sanctions has not collapsed, and Russia has not changed its policy on Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. What started as a series of tactical responses has since then been consolidated in the EU and Russia’s strategic documents and deeply impacted the views of both sides towards the other.

Important questions still remain: will tensions pass and will we see resumption of work on building a cooperative EU-Russia relationship? Or will the 2014-17 period be remembered rather for the emergence of a new model of bilateral relations, significantly different in character and intensity?

To help answer these questions, this special report brings together contributions from a group of distinguished Western and Russian experts. The authors, writing in the first three months of 2017, focus on specific aspects of the new reality of EU-Russia relations, as it has emerged during the last three years of ongoing tensions and bitter confrontation. As editors, we have identified three areas in which the changes seem most profound: the economy, the politics and “the people” (the attitude of the publics towards each other, people-to-people contacts, etc). For each of these areas, Russian experts present and assess developments inside their own country, while Western authors describe the situation at the EU level and in selected European Union countries. We hope that such ‘pairings’ provide readers with thought-provoking material and will allow readers to not only compare how the same developments are seen on both sides of the new divide, but also to contrast different approaches taken by individual experts to the same topic.

To frame the picture, this collection includes an essay devoted to the impact of the 2014-17 tensions in EU-Russia relations on the countries in the shared neighbourhood area, including Ukraine. We should also note that, as the focus of the volume is on EU-Russia relations, analysis of the military aspect of the Russia-West confrontation, including changes of national military postures and developments in NATO-Russia relations, is absent from this collection.

The volume has been prepared as a joint initiative of the European Leadership Network (ELN) and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), two organisations which have cooperated before on a number of projects aimed at analysing and offering recommendations on the state of relations between Russia, the EU and NATO. The views presented by individual authors do not necessarily reflect the positions of either of the organizations or its members. We acknowledge that a variety of opinions and divisive views exist about the causes of the current crisis in EU-Russia relations, especially about the responsibility for developments in Ukraine. The aim of this volume is not to focus on this particular crisis, assign blame or to agree on its interpretation, but rather to evaluate the consequences of the processes set in motion in Ukraine in late 2013 and early 2014 (or, as many would claim, much earlier) for the future of Russia and the EU.

This special report, coming some three years since EU-Russia relations began to decline significantly, is offered as a resource for readers to evaluate the implications of the crisis in relations. Importantly, we hope that readers can learn from the side-by-side analyses of authors from both sides of the growing divide. Moreover, we hope that our choice of topics shows both the severe and less severe implications. Readers may, for example, be surprised to learn that the economic impact of sanctions is not as severe as some may think, while others may be concerned to learn just how estranged the EU and Russia are becoming politically and socially. The damage done is serious, and regardless of who is to blame for it both sides have an interest in improving relations. We hope this report can help in this endeavour.



The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges of our time.