Europe and Russia in times of the Ukrainian crisis. KFG and MAXCAP at the Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften. Part 2: KFG Panel Discussion

Aug 05, 2015

Prof. Tanja A. Börzel

Prof. Tanja A. Börzel
Image Credit: Bettina Volke

Dr. Julia Langbein

Dr. Julia Langbein
Image Credit: Bettina Volke

Dr. Alexander Libman

Dr. Alexander Libman
Image Credit: Bettina Volke

Prof. Vladislav Inozemtsev

Prof. Vladislav Inozemtsev
Image Credit: Bettina Volke

Prof. Katharina Bluhm

Prof. Katharina Bluhm
Image Credit: Bettina Volke

Report 2: KFG-Panel Discussion: Between Europe and Eurasia - The EU and Russia

The recent crisis in Ukraine and the resulting sanction policies between the EU and Russia took also center stage in the second panel of the KFG & MAXCAP event at the Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften. In contrast to the student debate, the panel chaired by Tanja A. Börzel focused more on the broader regional level of 'Eurasia' which constitutes the neighborhood of almost all actors involved – EU, Russia and Ukraine – but also provides the backdrop to imbed the recent conflict into a larger picture.

In how far has Russia left the “common European house”? On this account Vladislav Inozemtsev, Professor at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, argued that although often centering in the mainstream discussion, Russian and European values do not differ a lot – this is just the Russian elites` rhetoric. On the contrary, to understand part and parcel of the conflict it is more important to focus on the elites and especially on the persona of Putin and their surrounding circumstances. Inozemtsev made the point that over the course of 15 years Putin did not alter his aims, but acted according to Russia's economic situation and the circumstances around him. He always believed in and still acts to restore the “historical greatness of Russia” that, territorially, also involves the post-Soviet space and aims at re-integrating these parts into Russia, partly by destabilizing these countries and inhibiting them from departing the 'historical Russia'.

Katharina Bluhm, Professor of Sociology at the Institute for East European Studies at the FU Berlin, focused more on the newly minted Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) founded by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. In her opinion, Russia does not only aim at diversifying its economic resources by establishing the EEU. The Union also presents a normative counter-model to EU-style integration and especially to the EU- initiated Eastern European Partnership. This, according to Bluhm, partially reflects a recent change in Russia´s elites´ attitude and ideology expressed in some sort of a ‘new Russian conservatism’ embodying the contrast between Russia and the West as well as a Russian fight against capitalism, neo-liberalism and liberalism – terms the Russian discourse uses interchangeably.

Julia Langbein, senior research fellow at the Otto-Suhr-Institute who focuses on Ukraine, Russia and Eastern Europe, emphasized Bluhm´s point by highlighting that the recent anti-western, anti-EU and nationalistic Russian discourse seems to resonate increasingly with the vast more liberal, maybe more critically-minded population. In contrast to the discourse in the former Soviet Union and some 20 years ago, for her this seems to be one of the most prominent and quite dangerous developments in Russia; also with regard to its (future) attitude toward the Eurasian region.

With regard to the EEU, Alexander Libman, senior researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, added that from a Russian perspective this new Union does represent a new effort of political integration within the Eurasian region to, among others, establish a “Greater Russian” stronghold against Western, European capitalism; as some strands of the inner Russia discourse propagate. Yet, Kazakhstan, another strong and necessary member to make the EEU work, strongly rejects efforts for further political integration in the region. This renders the current Eurasian integration scheme a rather ideology-empty concept that can be used by its members as a vehicle for distinct national(istic) rhetoric. Thus – for the time being – the Union may not provide a counter model to Western value-styled integration – also due to a strong institutional isomorphism.

In the end, the panel concluded that the subjective Russian feeling of a Western, European and NATO-led threat should be taken seriously, although it might be made up out of thin air. A Russian inspirited EEU might become a competitor for the EU, yet it does not pose a threat to its societies.

Follow this link in order to watch the full debate on our podcast.