Mira Milosevich is the author of Breve Historia de la Revolución Rusa
Russians admire, envy, imitate and hate Europe in equal proportion. Two historical events marked the modern origin of their vision of Europe: (1) the defeat in 1700 of Tsar Peter the Great’s (1689-1725) troops by those of Sweden's Gustav XII, an event that revealed Russia's political, economic and military backwardness; and (2) the decision made in 1703 by the same tsar to found the city of St. Petersburg with the aim of “bringing Russia closer to Europe.” The transfer of the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1713 was completed through a decree obliging its inhabitants to wear European clothing and speak French. Since then, the question of what Russia's place in Europe should be and how it could modernise and recover from its backwardness has not ceased to torment its politicians and intellectuals. For Russia, Europe has always been the most significant “other,” the mirror of its own identity never fully defined because of its geographical location between Asia and Europe as well as the ethnic diversity of its population.
The cultural links between Russia and Europe are undeniable, but even more so their military controversies. No country has provoked as many wars as Russia as, since the 14th century, the main instrument for guaranteeing its security and defence has been expansionism, the need for which was summed up by the Tsarina Catherine the Great (1729-1796) in one sentence: “The only way to defend my borders is to expand them.” On the other hand, no other country has been as decisive in defending Europe as Russia was in the Napoleonic Wars and in the Second World War. Russia contributed to the defeat of Nazi Germany, but it was the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that paid the price of its “aid” during the Cold War.
Today, Europe is no longer Russia's only provider of modernization that endows it with resources to recover from its backwardness: Israel, China and India also do so. Today, Europe is the European Union, part of the West and a valuable customer for the export of its hydrocarbons. This twofold perspective is the reason why the current relations between Russia and the EU are characterised by both conflict and interdependence.
The EU, together with the United States and NATO, represents the West. In this sense, Russia perceives it as Americans’ Trojan horse. The EU, in Russians’ opinion, is not an independent strategic actor, but an instrument of US foreign policy that supports and accepts the leadership and hegemony of the American superpower in exchange for the security offered by NATO. The vast majority of EU countries are members of NATO, and the Atlantic Alliance is defined in all official Russian foreign, security and defence policy documents as the main threat to Russia’s national security. EU enlargement entails NATO enlargement, and both pose threats to Russia's areas of influence (i.e. post-Soviet territories, Eastern Europe, the Balkans). However, from the Russian point of view, the EU is politically as weak as Russia is in its economy. It does not represent a threat to the Kremlin by itself. Moscow has always insisted on bilateral relations with individual EU member states, especially Germany and France, in order to undermine the internal cohesion of the Union. Russia no longer wants to imitate Europe. It aspires to divide and weaken Europe and, simultaneously and especially, to weaken its ties with the US.
Translation by Javier Martín Merchán