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The Need to Engage with Russia


On a recent visit to Russia, I was fortunate to speak about the history of the European Union at a school located almost 300 km from Moscow. My topic had at first been rejected by the teachers as being "unpatriotic" but was begrudgingly accepted as part of the school's English Club. The twenty or so students reacted enthusiastically and showed a real hunger for information, exchange, debate. In Moscow, I met an American educator at a Russian higher education institution who also spoke of his students' appetite for fresh ways of thinking. He is setting up a new master's programme in public policy in which "students will be encouraged to question, critique, explore and examine key and emerging global policy issues".

The challenge for policy makers in Canada and Europe is how do we continue to foster this open, outgoing attitude among Russians in the current political climate of sanctions and polarising talk which is increasingly making such openness more difficult?

At the highest levels, political leaders should step up their contacts with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Jason Karaian in the digital newspaper Quartz reports that Putin spoke in the six-month period of February to July this year 31 times with German chancellor Angela Merkel and on fifteen occasions with French president Francois Hollande, while US president Barack Obama and British prime minister David Cameron have only spoken to him eight and seven times respectively. There was no listing for Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

International legal processes are also crucial to mitigate the possibility of conflict escalation. For example, Ian Bond of the UK thinktank the Centre for European Reform suggests in his article Dealing with Russia: Law, war and jaw , published in August 2014, that the European Commission should make full use of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute settlement mechanism to bring Russia to account for its blocking of European agricultural produce from its markets on spurious health grounds. Bond notes this mechanism "can be a slow process, but using it consistently whenever Russia violates its WTO obligations is the best way to put political and economic pressure on Russia to abide by the [trade] rules."

The areas of research and education are potential spaces of cooperation and exchange, though both require more commitment by policy makers. Previously, Russia was the most successful non-EU partner in the EU's seventh framework programme for research and technological development, which concluded at the end of 2013: it received the most amount of funding, with 452 Russian organisations working on 281 projects, with an EU contribution of €55 million over the seven years of the programme. The EU replacement programme, Horizon 2020, is the world's largest, p ublicly funded research and development initiative. The Horizon 2020 website cites one Russian scientist, Professor Leonid Bobylev of the Nansen International Environmental and Remote Sensing Centre in St. Petersburg, who desires measures that would deepen the level of involvement of Russian researchers and institutions in international research activity, including Horizon 2020. The level of Russian participation in the EU programme, however, will remain uncertain as long as the political crisis in EU – Russian relations continues, since Russian co-financing is necessary for all projects. Although this year is officially the "2014 EU – Russia year of science," there has hardly been much attention paid to it on either the Russian or the European side. (The same is true of the bilateral UK – Russia Year of Culture 2014.)

Academic exchanges have also increasingly been imperilled owing to the strained relations with Russia. I taught an EU negotiating and influencing course to a highly-motivated group of Russian officials at a British university two years ago in a programme that was suddenly cancelled this year. Individual Russian students continue to study in European universities, attracted by a more varied curriculum and a more interactive pedagogy, so different than the old-fashioned lecture methods still employed in traditional Russian higher educational establishments. One of my Russian students, for example, wrote in her evaluation that it was the first time that she had taken a course about the European Union and European integration and what she liked was that the course was very practical, not just a theoretical description. Several of the students at the Russian school where I taught on my recent visit expressed a desire to study in the United Kingdom. Ian Bond notes in the pamphlet The EU and Russia: Uncommon Spaces , published by the Centre for European Reform in April 2014: "Apart from the academic benefits of student and professional exchanges, increased educational links are a long-term investment in improving EU – Russian relations. They expose more of Russia's and the EU's future thinkers and leaders to each other's countries and cultures... and they enable the two sides to build connections between non-officials that may be useful even when the political atmosphere is frosty."

Commentators should also provide to Russians and non-Russians alike an accurate, non-polemical account of what is happening in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere in the region. Too often, provocative comments from speakers and practitioners at international events and conferences inflame the situation, whereas more nuanced analysis can illuminate developments. For example, in Russia's 'Pivot' to Eurasia, a collection of essays published in May 2014, the European Council on Foreign Relations, a British thinktank, attempted to go beyond simplistic narratives in charting recent Russian foreign policy by asking ten Russian authors to explain supposed Russian disappointment in the West. The volume makes the claim that the Russian invasion of Crimea was not foreseen, either among Russian elites or among experts on Russia, although the annexation was "the logical outcome of long-term processes," even if not predestined.

The reason I spoke about the path of European integration in Russia is that we share common values and both Russia and the European Union can profit by a shared reading of history. I saw the weight of history in the small town of Baryatino, population 2745, where there is a memorial from World War II listing the names of 1700 residents killed by the German occupiers.

We still nee d flexible structures, exchange schemes and collaborative programmes in place, be they legal, political, educational, that will allow us to remain engaged with Russia and for Russia to engage in the ongoing policy dialogue on our common global future.


Forces Magazine 179, Autumn 2014


Biography: Dr Adam Steinhouse is an international EU consultant based in London and affiliated professor at the National School of Public Administration (ENAP) in Montreal. He was formerly Head of the School of European Studies at the UK National School of Government and taught European Politics at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and the LSE, and was a commentator for the BBC and CNN on European and North American affairs. His book, Workers' Participation in Post-Liberation France, was published by Lexington Books. Born in Canada, Adam graduated with a BA from Harvard University and a DPhil from Oxford University.

№10(92), 2014