Relationship of Ukraine and Russia: The Perspective of a Strategic Partnership Agreement

Within the last five years, we have witnessed a strong tension and political confrontations between two important actors of the Eurasian Continent, the European Union and the Russian Federation. Europe and especially the Eastern side became a playground for political games and dynamic scenarios for both powers in assuring its geopolitical interests and international status. The world started to question itself: “Is is the Cold War over or is the start of a new one?” Taking into consideration the heavy impact of Ukraine-Russia relationship on the stability, security and welfare of all European countries is more relevant to question and seek for the perspective of a strategic partnership agreement and how to bury the hatchet.

Key role of Russia and the EU

Russia and the EU recognize themselves as key partners in the international arena and cooperate on issues of mutual interest. The relations between the two powers were reflected through cooperation and ambitious trade until the current crisis. The Russian Federation is an influential member of several international organizations to which the EU member states also refer, while taking into account historical factors, geographical proximity and social-cultural links, Russia is definitely one of the most influential actors in the pan-European system. In the same time it is the main energy supplier for EU countries and represents a large and dynamic market for European goods and services.

There are no doubts that the interests of both actors are mutual but European Union will not tolerate a disobedient actor of international order. As a result of several factors caused by Russian actions: supporting the conflict in eastern Ukraine and separatist rebels from Lugansk and Donbas regions, annexation of Crimea, organizing misinforming media campaigns in its neighborhood and hybrid attacks, interventions in Syria has deteriorated existed collaboration and EU has been imposed to take measures and adopted a set of sanctions against Russian actions, which are periodically updated and prolonged.

Russian-European relationship can be analyzed from different ends of the stick: first, Russian side which is desired to achieve its strategic, economic goals in Western Europe and second, there is European perspective of extending its political-economic-cultural values and interest in Eastern Neighborhood. For a better understanding, it is necessary to chronologically identify current normative framework and definite the perspective of a strategic partnership agreement.

A Normative Framework

The legal framework of EU-Russia relations is the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) signed in June 1994 and entered into force in 1997. This agreement was initially valid for a period of ten years and was subsequently automatically renewed every year. The PCA sets out the main common objectives and the institutional framework for bilateral contacts. Thus, the principles and objectives are: promoting international peace and security, supporting democratic norms, as well as political and economic freedoms. It was based on the idea of a mutual partnership, which aimed to strengthen political, commercial, economic and cultural ties.

In 2003, the Russian-European relationship was strengthened by the creation of four "common spaces": an economic space; an area of freedom, security and justice; an external security space; a space for research, education and culture. Thus, priority actions were taken for boosting commercial and economic cooperation within - The Northern Dimension and Cooperation with the Baltic Sea Region and the Black Sea area as a result of EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007.

The discussions on a new Russian-European strategic partnership agreement were included on the political agenda, this document supposed to revise the old CPA, it was meant to become a comprehensive legal framework for bilateral relations. The new agreement supposed to be base on WTO conditions and was designed to create stable, predictable rules for bilateral trade relations and investments. Negotiations on this topic began in 2008, but in 2010 were discontinued due to lack of progress on the nature of the new agreement. EU wanted to reach a comprehensive and detailed strategic agreement, while the Russian side prefers to conclude a basic political framework agreement, followed by detailed sectorial agreements in areas of Russian interest.

In 2010 a “Partnership for modernization” was launched along with the negotiations for the visa facilitation agreement. Russia's intervention in Ukraine, however, has suspended all these discussions. In 2014, the European Council decided to freeze cooperation with Russia (with the exception of cross-border cooperation and interpersonal contacts) as well as new EU financing for the benefit of the country through international financing institutions. Sanctions were imposed as a result of the annexation of Crimea, and after the crush of the Malaysian passenger plane, European sanctions were substantially extended, in follow fields: diplomatic, political, economic, social. Russia came with the same answer, imposing sanctions on agricultural products, raw materials, and food also imposed travel bans on some EU and US citizens.

Geopolitical Interests and the Perspective of the Strategic Partnership

A strategic partnership is a long-term interaction between two countries based on political, economic, social and historical factors. Such a partnership manifests itself in a variety of further branches. Every strategic partnership should have some obligatory features: a certain depth in time, common goals, a long term view which truly might transform the actors and the relationship between them.

Slow progress of the negotiations on a new agreement between these actors reflects the different views regarding long term mutual relationship. The EU supports complex social, political and economic modernization, which should be aligned with the European acquis. On the other hand, Russia wants to be treated as a sovereign world power, which has its own approach to democracy, human rights, economy, security and culture. Taking into account the importance of a good relationship for the European order, the EU-Russia strategic partnership should include follow areas:

  1. Geopolitical interests
  2. Economy
  3. Energy resources and environment protection
  4. Security, migration and the fight against organized crime
  5. Education, research and scientific development

The geopolitical interests of the EU and the Russian Federation are crossing in few points along the Ukrainian-Russian border which should be taken into consideration. First, post-soviet space or the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) - The CIS represents according to the Russian Federation's foreign policy strategy from 2016 as a priority region of its foreign goals, defining it as "its area of ​​interest". Russia wants to develop bilateral or multilateral relations in order to strengthen the integrating instruments that function in the given space such as the Eurasian Economic Union – whose member states are the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Belarus, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and the Russian Federation as the initiator. In 2017, the Republic of Moldova has granted the observer status of the EEU, being first country that has received this position.

Also, in the Strategy is mentioned Russian engagement into solving frozen / active conflicts from Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Ukraine or even Georgia. Most of the previous mentioned states have joined the Eastern Partnership launched in 2009 by the EU and some of them signed the Association Agreements (AA) with a strong desire to reach European membership. The aim of the AA is to foster close relationships between the EU and its neighborhood partners on a wide range of topics but does not promise the integration. In the same time, joining the EU makes membership in the CIS (or Eurasian Economic Organization) impossible, and there is a risk for the organization to lose important Eastern European-Caucasus states, otherwise Georgia and Ukraine are examples in this matter. In this picture is also involved NATO, some post soviet states (Ukraine) revealed their intention to be part of such a significant military organization which infuriated Russia even more. Russia considers this as a threat, and the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (2016) evaluated Russia's foreign actions as extremely successful (implying situation in Ukraine, Syria), primarily because it was possible "stopping the expansion of Western structures and organization" in the post-soviet area and its historical imperial space.

Second, the black sea region is bordered by six countries — Romania and Bulgaria to the west; Ukraine, Russia, and Georgia to the north and east; and Turkey to the south. In this region, the Russian Federation has significant strategic-military, economic, political interests. Frozen conflicts from the post Soviet states where Russia is involved (Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia), Eastern Ukraine and Crimea annexed in 2014 with the seaport of Sevastopol, are strategically located in this sea-basin and are characterized by Russian military presence (small armies) as a port-planes ready to intervene in case of necessity. Specialists claim that Russian fleet in the Black Sea is intended for military-dominance, control of communication ties and prevention of NATO-US expansion into the area. From an economic point of view, the control on the Black Sea basin give the opportunity to control the energetic routs coming from Caucasus to Europe, furthermore, has been discovered that the Black Sea holds vast volumes of oil and gas, much of it in deep water - a chance for Ukraine to diversify its energy market.

Third geopolitical aspect is the Baltic Sea Region and the Northern Dimension (ND) - The ND is an EU partnership with Iceland, Norway and Russia (in which the US and Canada have observer status) entered into force in 2007. It supports regional cooperation and welfare growth in the Arctic and Baltic regions where exist many natural resources and economic potential, but the environment is facing huge problems. The Baltic Sea region is also referred to the strategic Baltic corridor making possible for Russia to reach the warm ocean, surveillance the northern continental Europe. Cold stance of the Baltic States towards Russia and their accession to the EU and NATO, made the access to the Baltic corridor and links with its enclave Kaliningrad difficult. Russian authorities focused even more on fortifying its military fleet in the Baltic Sea. In additional to military dominance, through Baltic Sea Russia is running out one of its biggest energetic project, controversial Nord Stream 2 - 1 855 km of the pipeline connecting Russia with Germany and officially is aimed to enhance security of supply, support climate goals and strengthen the internal energy market of the EU. Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states fear it will increase Europe's reliance on Russian energy which Moscow could then use to exert political pressure.

In addition, to the geopolitical areas listed above, the Balkans, the Mediterranean Sea, the Caucasus, and the Caspian Sea, etc. represent also a significant places in the foreign policy of both actors. Most of these territories are valuable in expanding the energy projects of the Russian Federation and the construction of new gas pipelines that would cross the southern part of Europe and would ruin the EU initiative to diversify its energy markets.

On the economic dimension, the states had a constant dialogue within the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and then separated on common spaces According to the website of the European External Action Service until tensions in Ukraine escalated; the EU was Russia's main trading and investment partner. This interdependence of supply, demand, investment and knowledge has led to common commitments to maintain good economic relations, with a special focus on cooperation in the energy sector, ensuring energy security and stable economic growth for both sides. Trade between the EU and Russia registered high growth rates until mid-2008, when this trend was stopped due to the economic crisis and unilateral measures taken by Russia, which had a negative impact on EU-Russia trade relations. Since 2010, the volume of mutual trade resumed its growth, reaching a record level in 2012. The European Union is an important trading and investment partner of Russia, while Russia is the fourth largest trading partner for the EU. In 2015, exports of EU goods and services to Russia amounted to 73.9 billion Euros, and imports - 135.8 billion Euros.

In the Russian Federation's strategy for foreign policy 2016, it is mentioned that for Russia, the EU remains an important commercial, economic and foreign policy partner. They are interested in building constructive, stable and predictable cooperation with EU countries based on the principles of equality and mutual respect of the interests.

Despite the fact that Russia is only the fourth largest trading partner of the European Union, it is the largest supplier of important energy resources, such as oil, gas, uranium, and coal. The EU's energy policy, the relation with Russia is based on the concept of the Energy Alliance, whose purpose is to increase safety, security and green energy. In 2016, almost two thirds of oil imports from outside the EU, from Russia (32%). A similar analysis shows that over three quarters of EU natural gas imports come from Russia (40%), Norway (25%) and Algeria (12%), while almost three quarters of Russia's solid fuel imports (30%) ), Colombia (23%) and Australia (15%). At the same time, Russian’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas exports: 60% of Russian crude oil and 90% of Russian gas go to the EU. There is an obviously interdependence that both actors need to manage it for the common good.

An important aspect for the neighboring states is cooperation in ensuring regional security, eliminating sources of conflict, combating organized crime, terrorism, and illegal migration. Since 2003, EUROPOL and Russian structures have been established commissions to identify possible risks and dangers. Until 2014, military-professional training agreement between the EU and the Russian Federation was followed. Negotiations for the elimination of the visa regime were carried out to prevent illegal migration in 2011, but it was stopped once the mutual relationship was frozen.

The cooperation between Russia and the EU in the field of education and research is based on the principles of the Bologna Process. Through this process, universities and stakeholders can continuously adapt national higher education systems, increasing their compatibility and enhancing quality of the Higher Education Area. Since 2014, the main instrument of cooperation in the field of research and innovation within European Union is the EU Framework Program for research and innovation Horizon 2020, to which Russian researchers are invited to participate. Cooperation in the educational field provides wide opportunities for Russian citizens, students, researchers and organizations.


The EU-Russia relationship is crucial for the stability and security of the European continent. The tensions formed as a result of the Ukraine crises, the annexation of Crimea and the events that followed, forced the EU to acknowledge that its idea of a European order had dissolved. Instead of spreading throughout continent and eventually to an entire planet - Europe's post-modern order became suddenly invalid. Furthermore, this model was misunderstood by the Russian elite and especially did not enjoy the sympathy of the Russian people. The views of many Russian of inappropriate values, lack of morality and loss of state sovereignty which Europe allegedly possesses, are those elements that Russia will never accept in comparison with the Member States.

The need for a strategic partnership and improved collaboration between the two actors is fundamental. Also, this initiative is welcomed by the political will of European states and international organizations. The EU should revise its policy of supporting Russian isolationism by cutting of any economic, political, social ties. These initiatives, on the contrary, contribute to the flowering of Putin's regime, which covers the economic failures of the system, blaming the sanctions imposed by the EU. Russia is too big, too important and too embedded in international institutions to be so easily isolated.

The new partnership should be built on an equal footing, without the EU's desire to dictate the rules of the game as it was done before. The major challenge of the current crisis is that Brussels must imagine a policy towards Moscow, who does not want to transform Russia into a country like them but to develop an approach that will create a Russia that you can live with.