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If Europe wants to set international norms, it needs to show that these norms are workable — in both its domestic and international practices. The normative struggle between Moscow and Europe is not new. Today, for example, Russia and the West routinely clash over trade rules at the World Trade Organisation — something that would have been impossible during the cold war. Russia is now also much more motivated to fight on the normative front than it once was. Russia is doing to the West what it thinks the West has been doing to Russia. Many leaders in Moscow believe that the working methods of Western media outlets are no different from those of Russian propaganda channels RT and Sputnik.

It is hard to know precisely what Russia is doing. Certain things, however, are beyond doubt. The history of Russian interference shows how Russia has upgraded its efforts in the West after each major normative clash. The Soviet Union had its own traditions of interference, but for independent Russia everything started after the Orange Revolution in Ukraine — whose emotional impact on the Kremlin is hard to overestimate.

In , the Kremlin launched a major counter-revolutionary offensive at home and, more quietly, also created a new subdivision of the Presidential Administration: the Presidential Directorate for Interregional Relations and Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries, headed by Modest Kolerov. This was the start of Russian state efforts to influence the discussion outside of its borders — initially in the former Soviet space, including Baltic states. The effort accelerated after the war in Georgia.

Even though the war achieved its aim — namely, stopping the expansion of NATO — Russia realised that its military was underdeveloped, and that it had lost the information war. That led to an impressive military reform, and equally massive modernisation of propaganda outreach. Followers of Western media could be excused for thinking that, sometime between and , Russia invented a completely new destructive weapon — some powerful witchcraft that only Moscow has, and which it is using to subvert the world. Often, this witchcraft is thought to originate in the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine — an article by Russian General Valery Gerasimov that, far from being a Russian doctrine, discusses the perceived features of contemporary Western warfare from a mainly defensive viewpoint.

Frequent government use of freelancers — be they criminal networks, activist oligarchs, or shady paramilitary units — also stems from deinstitutionalisation. While decision-making power is increasingly concentrated in the Presidential Administration, policy advice and execution often comes from sources outside established institutions, opening the door to various kinds of people who have unorthodox policy solutions. The quintessential example is the case of Viktor Bout, a man whose career spanned the worlds of crime, business, and intelligence work; and whose example illustrates the smooth and often imperceptible transition between official and non-official roles.

At the same time, not all interference operations originate in the Kremlin. This is ideal for a Kremlin that places such a premium on plausible deniability. And while it is unlikely that something as sensitive as interference in US domestic politics could have happened without some form of approval by Putin, on other occasions he may well have been uninvolved. For example, Moscow insiders suspect that both Prigozhin and Orthodox oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, who has allegedly financed interference in eastern Ukraine and Macedonia, have acted on their own initiative.

But these activists most likely acted without receiving specific orders. And sometimes they get it. But in their overeagerness, they sometimes also get the Kremlin into trouble, and then they are reprimanded. Diplomats working for the Russian Foreign Ministry are ambivalent about the value of subversive measures.

Meanwhile, its policy benefits remain dubious, at best. No, of course not, they say. Do you then think you can change government there? So what is the aim of it? At which they look at me with wide eyes, without having an answer. The business community — badly hit by a new set of US sanctions — is also displeased. But when evening comes, I call Uber and go out to a pub — and in this world, in the night-time Europe, most people think that Putin is great. Russian efforts to influence Europe capitalise on what already exists. Russia might resort to media manipulation, or even outright illegal activity such as hacking or bribery.

But to convert this into real influence on European domestic politics, it needs to make use of pre-existing cleavages and shortcomings — be they neglected minorities, threatened majorities, biased media outlets, home-grown corruption, insufficient law enforcement, or disillusionment with politics. They regard Russia as having charmed some marginal groups, but not as having established considerable influence over the country as a whole. However, even the countries that have not experienced much Russian meddling take it seriously as a policy issue.

Events in — including the Lisa case, involving the spread of a fake anti-immigrant story in Germany, and Russian interference in the US election — served as a wake-up call. These high-profile incidents have raised the issue on the EU agenda, inspiring European governments to look at Russian influence in their countries and start — though unevenly and often clumsily — to work on countermeasures. There is some home-grown logic behind their stance and activities; Russia generally plays the role of an ally of convenience.

While Europe worries about the effects of pro-Russian populism, to observers in Russia it is evident that European fringe parties have only limited pro-Russian influence. Still, some narratives promoted by Russia gain significant traction in Europe. The view that Russia is an important global actor with which Europeans need to find agreement is shared by mainstream political forces in several European countries Austria and Italy, to name just two.

In some states — including Slovenia, and parts of Bulgaria and France — Russia is seen as a counterweight to other powers, usually the US. But this more likely stems from condemnation of the US than praise of Russia. RT and Sputnik have only a minor impact.

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They enjoy some niche appeal among people who, for one reason or another, feel neglected by the mainstream media — such as Latin American audiences in Spain and some Scottish audiences in the lead-up to the Scottish referendum on independence, during which parts of the British mainstream media ridiculed and neglected the independence cause.

Countries that have deep cultural and historical links to Russia, such as Italy and Bulgaria, are far from seeing contemporary Russia as a model for state governance. The prolific business links with Russia enjoyed by Austria, Italy, and Germany may have led to dissatisfaction with EU policies, but all these countries have refrained from serious efforts to break ranks on sanctions — so far, at least. Some European experts now believe that the necessary awareness has crossed over into unhelpful paranoia. In much of the media discussion, Russia plays a prominent role in almost every bit of ill-fortune that has befallen the West — from the refugee crisis to the rise of populism to the independence referendum in Catalonia.

In December , for instance, elections in Bulgaria and Moldova coincided with a change in government in Estonia — prompting the media to briefly interpret all three as victories for Russia. In fact, Russia was not a defining factor — or even a factor at all — in any of these events.

This tendency of interpreting every election or event through the Russian lens is counterproductive. Russian efforts can only play on pre-existing social cleavages. Arguably, their efforts can amplify existing tensions, but most European societies are proving quite adept at polarising themselves. Reducing everything to Russian meddling leads to dangerous neglect of the real issues behind home-grown polarisation and encourages demagogic politicians to use the threat from Russia opportunistically.

For decades, European elites have felt basically safe on the home front, but they can no longer take such domestic immunity for granted. Russia has induced fear and occasionally derailed the European agenda, by making Europeans fear the Russian hand when they should focus on their own shortcomings. European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans famously said that the EU has two kinds of member state: small member states and member states that have yet to understand they are small. No European country alone can compete effectively in the normative struggle with Russia.

A decade ago, a lack of unity was the chief reason that Europe had no effective policy on Russia. Today, the EU may face various crises and lack self-confidence, but it has overcome many of the issues that once paralysed its Russia policy. Europe still seems to think of itself as deeply split on Russia. And Moscow has noticed. Europe is now united in its assessment of Russia. This sharply contrasts with the situation ten years ago, when Baltic states and Poland viewed Russia as a consolidating authoritarian state with dangerous ambitions abroad, while Germany still saw it as a country that was democratising — even if slowly, with multiple detours and setbacks.

Now, European policymakers overwhelmingly perceive Russia as posing a normative challenge. They view Moscow as seeking to dismantle the post-cold war European order. At the same time, the narratives Moscow promotes — which paint Russia as the victim of Western policies and its actions as forced responses to Western assertiveness — have only very limited traction in a few EU member states such as Austria, Cyprus, and Greece. European views are also significantly aligned in assessments of the military threat from Russia. Six EU countries think that Russia poses a direct military threat to them, and to Europe as a whole; ten believe that Russia might threaten the fringe states of the EU; and five others see Russia as a military threat not to the EU, but to non-member states in eastern Europe.

These negative expectations even affect the Arctic, where the relationship between Russia and EU countries has in fact been mostly constructive. Overall, bad experiences with Russia on issues such as Ukraine, Syria, and interference in European domestic politics have now spilled over into low expectations from nearly everyone in nearly all areas. This solidarity translates into strong support for sanctions, even though member states are broadly ambivalent about how well the measures work. Most countries think that sanctions against Russia are necessary.

Southern Europeans lend their support to the EU on Russia as a down payment on support for other, priority issues from states in the east and the north that view the country as an existential threat. Most governments are under some domestic pressure to lift sanctions — stemming from political parties or business lobbies — but this pressure is strong and meaningful only in Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and likely also — after its latest elections — Italy. There is also considerable unanimity on when to end sanctions on Russia. The overwhelming majority of member states believe that the EU can only lift sanctions once Ukraine has regained control of its eastern border, while seven countries are ready to consider gradually easing sanctions if Russia starts making steps towards withdrawing from eastern Ukraine.

Only Hungary says that sanctions definitely do not work and should be dropped as soon as possible — but even Budapest has not come close to breaking ranks on their renewal. Member states want normative questions to be handled by the EU as a whole; only Hungary, Greece, Austria, and Bulgaria have any faith in the bilateral track.

More importantly, there has been no serious effort to challenge consensus European policies. Brussels insiders say that the rollover of sanctions twice per year has, if anything, become easier — despite some sotto voce grumbling. Countries that do not like sanctions, however, tend to emphasise the need for universal compliance — and rightly so.

Paradoxically, the recent pile-up of economic and security crises seems to have helped Europeans become more united. Member states need to pick their fights with Brussels. Russia is a priority for those who feel threatened by it, but it is less important to those who do not. It is not all togetherness. Hungary and perhaps Greece are examples of countries in which disagreements with the EU mainstream on asylum policy and the protection of civil society, and the euro respectively correlate with a divergent stance on Russia.

Indeed, Hungary stands out as the one EU country that, in the context of normative war, often takes a stance closer to the Russian side of the argument. Overall, Russia may still try to sow discord within the EU, but it is far less able to play member states off against each other than it was ten years ago. But it is clearly not enough to manage the normative challenge that Russia poses.

For that, one also needs policy. EU member states generally agree that Russia is to blame. Sanctions on Russia and troop reinforcements in eastern EU states have provided some answers to the question of what is to be done. Nonetheless, the EU cannot prevail in a normative war if it does not know how to tackle the challenger. To be effective, the EU also needs a common Russia strategy that reflects not just Europe, but also Russia.

What can it achieve?

How can Russia fit into the liberal world order that the EU seeks to promote? How can the EU influence Moscow? Answering these questions is difficult and risks dividing Europe on Russia once again. But an effective Russia strategy for a normative war needs to accommodate an agreement on concrete policies.

The EU will need to strategise, not just sermonise. The — clearly non-exhaustive — list of issues below highlights some areas in which a lack of both clarity and a joint approach hampers EU policymaking. For instance, the EU does not have a common strategy on sanctions, its eastern neighbourhood, or energy security. In addition, there is also confusion about methods — such as dialogue with Russia — and the division of work between member states and EU institutions. For EU countries, such an approach is simply unacceptable — made taboo by their twentieth-century experiences with spheres of influence.

Ukraine is a prime example here: Russia had extensive leverage over its economy and leadership, only to see it swept away in a popular revolution. Or one could look at Belarus and Armenia: on paper, both are dedicated members of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union but, in practice, both are working to limit Russian influence, as elites in the countries see Russia as a threat. Europe cannot possibly endow Moscow with the sphere of influence it craves: this would go against all its normative principles and lessons learned from history. But, similarly, the EU lacks a viable policy for addressing this conceptual clash.

Russia is determined to resist any such development, while the countries themselves are going through a long and bumpy political transformation, characterised by ongoing tension between corrupt elites and maturing societies that demand a greater say. There is not a desire for EU membership everywhere and, even where there is, the reforms required by the accession process would infringe on the vested interests of powerful domestic constituencies.

It would not mean that West had brought Russia around to the ideas of cooperative, mutually beneficial arrangements that Europe sees as the goal for the continent. And, conversely, if these countries fail to reform, they still retain their rights to sovereignty and territorial integrity. For the time being, the EU and Russia are stuck in a normative struggle in the eastern neighbourhood that neither has the capacity to win any time soon.

To prevail, the EU needs to focus not just on promoting democracy, but also on upholding the principles of the OSCE-based post-cold war European order. It needs to find ways to boost the sovereignty of these countries without an immediate membership perspective. The EU has maintained unity on sanctions for four years. The absence of immediate results has led some policymakers — most notably in Italy, but also in Austria and Hungary — to declare that sanctions do not work.

There is no doubt, though, that sanctions have had economic effects. The political effects are less clear, but still detectable. In , the sanctions did not succeed at convincing political and business elites to put pressure on the Kremlin. By , however, a prominent group of technocrats started speaking up in favour of improving relations with the West. The evidence on the ground in Donbas is similarly mixed. The lesson here is that sanctions are inherently a long-term instrument. They do not work in isolation, but in combination with other policies and developments.

Furthermore, in a normative war, the stated aim may not even be the most important one. The Russians have often tried to use their energy relationship with various European states to corrupt and divide the EU. In the last ten years or so, however, Moscow has had little success in this effort. Today, Russia remains the largest supplier of gas to the EU, but it cannot use gas as a weapon in the normative struggle in the way that it did ten years ago.

However, disputes around the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — which would run from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea — show that there continue to be important disagreements. Unlike the debate over Nord Stream 1, that over Nord Stream 2 is not about how to deal with Russia but rather about competing business interests and differing views of energy security and diversification. Nor does Nord Stream 2 divide member states the way Nord Stream 1 did: it is easy to find people in northern or eastern Europe who are unconcerned about the potential impact of Nord Stream 2, as well as Germans who oppose the pipeline.

Even so, the views of EU states do not provide a basis for sound policy. Some countries in northern Europe — such as Denmark and, to a lesser extent, Sweden — consider the pipeline to be a security concern, fearing that Russia will use maintenance as a cover for covert operations. Others, such as Finland, see it as a purely commercial endeavour. Some countries view Nord Stream 2 as contrary to the letter or the spirit of the Energy Union, while others believe that the pipeline should be allowed because it predates the concept of the Energy Union.

Finally, Germany considers the supply of Russian gas via multiple pipelines to be sufficient energy diversification if the product can later be freely sold in an interconnected European market, while Poland believes that true diversification and energy security are unachievable without greater involvement of suppliers other than Russia. Ultimately, who is right matters less than resolving the disagreement. European unity on Russia is far more important than the energy market effects of Nord Stream 2. The latter can always be mitigated, but the Russians are already seeking to use disagreements over Nord Stream 2 to undermine broader European unity on Russia policy.

To avoid this outcome, all sides need to seek a compromise on the approach, agree on a European-level process, and commit to accepting the result. To prevail in the normative struggle, member states also need to think harder about how to integrate the EU — its member states and EU institutions — into diplomacy with Russia. This non-EU arrangement has worked relatively well until now but, even so, it is probably unsustainable. France and Germany have done a good job of building support for their efforts; Germany has taken particular care of the concerns of the countries that are most vulnerable and sensitive to all things related to Russia — such as Baltic states — by keeping them informed.

But some dissatisfaction is building up among medium-sized EU countries such as Sweden and Holland, which — while they do not dispute the essence of the policy — would like to play a larger role. We created European institutions to represent us all. An increasing number of European leaders are making bilateral visits to Moscow — both Swedish and Austrian representatives have shown up there, while Finland regularly stays in touch. They go for various reasons. Finland wants to maintain contact with a complicated neighbour, while Austria wants to enhance its business contacts with Russia.

But many ministers, such as the Swedes or the British, just want to be part of the game, to feel relevant. These visits are not bad in and of themselves.


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For now, they are mostly harmless, if largely useless. Yet, in theory, Moscow might seek to make use of such contact to split Europe and erode the consensus behind sanctions or other policies. This conception should also guide and empower EU institutions. For Moscow, it is exactly these institutions that embody the strict normative face of the EU. And indeed, for now, Moscow has decided that the institutional EU hardly matters.

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Winning the normative war with Russia: An EU-Russia Power Audit

Around that time, Russia contacted Juncker with some policy proposals, but it never heard back from him — while bilateral tracks hummed along as before. This legacy makes the idea of dialogue contentious and gives birth to fruitless arguments that treat it as an end in itself. The situation in the EU is not much better. Member states are unsure what they want to talk to Russia about, or what talking can achieve in principle. It needs to do better; and the way is obvious: when the EU devises a joint policy on Russia that goes beyond declarations of values, dialogue will stop being a surrogate for policy and find its natural place as a tool of policy.

However, they are not enough to counter the Russian normative challenge. Resilience is important for practical as well as normative reasons. Europe needs to show Moscow that its norms are viable and shared by its societies, and that the collapse of the European order is not on the cards. Similarly, European policies can only work if they have reasonable support at home. While many of these measures make sense, it is counterproductive to view them primarily as efforts to fight Russia. Firstly, this is because Europeans cannot effectively counter this part of the Russian normative offensive head on.

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It is simply too diffuse. When Europeans mobilise against them with the resources of the state, it can often seem like an overreaction: shooting a cannon at a sparrow. Instead of fighting raindrops, one should fix the roof. We would now like to give it back to you! Preparedness to fight cyber threats is a separate sub-field. To boost their preparedness, EU member states should ensure that they have implemented, at minimum, all the measures below: [36]. Countering fake news is another important area of resilience — and the debate on how best to do this is only starting. One approach is to address the supply side of fake news, by making Facebook and Twitter limit what they circulate and promote, and preventing people from profiting from the production and dissemination of fake news.

Another approach focuses on the demand side, by placing the onus on society and investing in media literacy — so that citizens become more discerning consumers of news. This conceptual debate extends far beyond the question of Russia, but it is already clear that the EU and its member states need to adopt a few preliminary recommendations.

They should:. Yet, from a broader perspective, they are all merely technical issues. This presupposes political elites that enjoy relatively high levels of trust, political institutions that are independent and credible, state finances that are transparent, media outlets that are not entirely sensationalist, minorities that are reasonably well-integrated, and historical traumas if any that have been thoughtfully addressed.

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Securing all this is a tall order, but it is these sources of resilience that will matter most in the normative war with Russia. This core normative struggle has entrenched the positions of both powers. Both are trying to build up their resilience. Both have learned lessons from their interactions with each other between and , but they still lack an effective strategy for their future relationship.

The EU and its member states need an approach to Russia that translates normative principles into real policy. They need a Russia strategy that extends their current unity into more difficult and long-term issues — not least those involving the eastern neighbourhood, where the normative clash is most acute and dangerous. This understanding should then form the basis of a joint Russia policy that involves member states large and small, north and south, and that is represented in EU institutions.

This would present Russia with a solid normative front that both sticks to the moral high ground and is politically viable. As noted above, EU member states should also invest in their resilience. Part of this will involve relatively simple administrative measures.


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But the more fundamental components of resilience — such as the credibility of state institutions, political parties, politicians, and the mainstream media — will require a broader effort. If these components are missing, they cannot usually be created in a top-down manner. Still, there are some aspects of resilience that the authorities can strengthen, including by: tackling social inequality and deprivation; engaging with marginalised minorities or fearful majorities; addressing relevant historical myths or conspiracies; countering corruption; and investing in transparency.

In general, the authorities need to engage in a frank conversation with society. Some current European leaders, particularly those in France and Germany, are doing remarkably well at this. Others — such as those in the UK in their profoundly mismanaged approach to Brexit , Poland, and Hungary — remarkably badly. Offensive measures are important in the normative war with Russia. But, ultimately, the best normative offence is a good defence, which requires the renewal and reinvigoration of the European model. The EU plays an important role in Armenia for fostering reforms in different spheres, mainly political reforms to boost good governance and transparency.

These include judicial reforms, to support Armenian efforts to make the judiciary more independent, and also economic reforms, especially creating a more competitive atmosphere for investors. The European Union is also supporting different spheres of the Armenian economy: agriculture, renewable energy, small and medium enterprises. Europe and Eurasia. European Union. State modernization in different spheres, but mainly political and economic. Armenia undertook several obligations to modernize the state, have a more free political system, have a more free economic system, increase competitiveness, and fight corruption.

The EU is ready to support Armenia through both technical and financial support.


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More important for every Armenian citizen is the fact that this agreement is paving the way for negotiations on a visa-liberalization scheme with the EU. This is one of the carrots by which Armenian society will support the reforms envisaged in the agreement. The EU-Armenia Single Support Framework identified three main areas for EU support from to private-sector development, public administration reform, and justice-sector reform. The EU allocated approximately million euros, with 35 percent to private-sector development, 25 percent to public administration reform, and 20 percent to justice-sector reform.

The remaining 20 percent has been allocated to capacity development and institution building, as well as to civil society organizations. Negotiations are underway to identify concrete projects , which will be finalized after provisional application of CEPA. The Armenian parliament envisages ratifying the agreement in mid-April, which will pave the way for provisional application. Starting in , Armenia chose a strategic alliance with Russia that included having a Russian military base in Armenia and several Russian state or state-affiliated companies controlling large portions of the economy.

When in Armenia launched its negotiations with the EU to style an association agreement, the security environment around Armenia was far different than in In , it was the middle of the U.

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In this period, relations between Russia and the West were much better, and for Armenia it was much easier to start its association with the European Union. Unfortunately for Armenia, the situation started to change in September , when Vladimir Putin announced his decision to run for a third presidential term. This decision, and the December Russian Duma elections, after which we saw large protests in big Russian cities, were the first signs of deterioration in Russia-West relations.

The West started to see Russia as moving toward a more authoritarian government. This atmosphere did not bode well for Armenia-EU relations. This idea was first presented in October by then—Prime Minister Putin, and it was a major foreign policy goal for his third presidential term, starting in Taking all this into consideration, Armenia made a decision not to go on with signing an association agreement with the EU but rather to join the Eurasian Economic Union.

My understanding is that Russia has the confidence that any agreement with EU, including this one, cannot threaten its position in Armenia. But Armenia is a customs union member, Armenia is a Eurasian Economic Union member, and we did nothing to support or prevent the signature of new partnership agreement with the EU.

Therefore, all Western allegations against Russia—that we do not perceive Russian allies within post-Soviet states as real independent states, that we do not want them to have independent foreign or security policies—are untrue. Since , Armenia has tried to have a balanced foreign policy.

But balanced foreign policy does not mean equal relations with all partners. Since , the main partner and the sole strategic ally of Armenia has been Russia. There are different reasons for the alliance, starting with historical ones. In the mid-nineteenth century, Russia was perceived in Armenia as a savior, having saved it from attack by the Persian Empire.