Pro-Russian Belt under Shape in Europe

It is becoming increasingly clear that the West’s reconciliation with Russia will start from the eastern corners of the European Union. In particular, both the Estonian President Kirsti Kaliulayd and the Speaker of the Slovak Parliament, Andrey Danko, call upon the club not to antagonise Moscow. Truly speaking, these small but strategically located states have little influence in the foreign policy making of Brussels. However, it is clear that as the West’s reconciliation with Russia finally gets under way, such normalization of relations originates in the eastern corners of the European Union.

Small EU member states have neither enough power nor influence to impact radically the policy of this quasi-state entity. Their statements against the anti-Russian sanctions, or, conversely, their demands for cessation of all communication with Moscow do not have much impact on policy makers in Brussels.

But on the other hand, we know that second tier politicians in many countries of the world express ideas that power cannot or do not want to voice. In the same way smaller states can come forward with policy proposals, which subsequently will be considered as official Brussels policy.

Estonia and Slovakia almost simultaneously made consequential political statements about Russia. Estonian President Kirsti Kaliulayd said in an interview with the BBC that the sooner the relations between Russia and the Western countries become normal, the better. At the same time, the Estonian President declared that she would be pleased if good relations prevail with Moscow. She added, however, that Russia is too ‘unpredictable’. On the direct question whether she considers Russia a “hostile state”, Kaliulayd unequivocally replied “no.”

Andrey Danko, the Speaker of the Slovak Parliament, accuses other countries that officially they come forward for Russia’s containment, but in fact they do not stop cooperation with Moscow. “I see that, contrary to sanctions, the trade between Russia and EU member states is thriving. There are a lot of representatives of US companies in Russia,” he said during the recent 137th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in St. Petersburg. According to Danko, in relations with Moscow “we missed many things, because we wanted to differ from the Russians. But we need a Slavic reciprocity, as well as cooperation in the economic sphere”.

It is equally interesting to note that in neighboring Austria, the conservative Austrian People’s Party won the recent elections. The country’s last Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurtz heads the winner party. Kurtz stands for the abolition of sanctions on Russia. In another neighboring country the Czech Republic, Andrei Babish has won the parliamentary elections. He is suspected of wanting “to orient the Czech Republic (and at the same time Central Europe) towards Moscow, forcing it to “turn away from Brussels and Washington.” Thus Prague’s rapprochement with Moscow becomes very likely. In addition, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is frequently accused of being “pro-Russian,” and he is also against sanctions on Russia.

Of course, all the statements about the need for the resumption of dialogue and the abolition of sanctions against Russia are due not to a disinterested love of Russia and not to “Slavic reciprocity”. Sanctions harm all European countries, but Central and Eastern Europe, due to geographical proximity and tuned Soviet-era ties, suffers more. Among the EU member states due to sanctions on Russia, Cyprus suffered especially badly: exports to Russia for the period 2014-16 dropped by 34, 5%. Very significant losses were suffered by such countries as Greece (-23, 2%) and Croatia (-21%). Only Ukrainian politicians are able to harm their own economy and citizens, as they hope that the current war or a new revolution will absolve them from responsibility. In other European countries, the situation is different. Warsaw officially welcomes the new sanctions on Russia imposed by the United States, but it is not in a hurry to toe the line.

If the EU intends to continue to be the unifying force, its leading countries Germany and France should make a univocal statement. It is high time for it. The fact remains that smaller European countries are increasingly proposing to abolish sanctions and are ready to resume full-fledged cooperation with Russia. They are waiting from Berlin and Paris for very concrete statements as well as actions toward this direction.