1. The foreign policies of both Russia and Germany are undergoing a transformation. Both countries are aspiring to be global powers – Germany as a leading country of the EU, which makes European integration a top priority for Berlin, and Russia as the leader of the Eurasian Union. However, the Eurasian Union is far from being a political union, thus Russia does nor rely on its partners as explicitly as Germany does, at least in politics and defense.
These processes are not new and they date back to at least the first decade of the millennium, which saw Russia's return to international politics and Germany's return to ‘normality’. Even before the Ukraine crisis, which was a result of competition between two integration projects – the European and Eurasian ones, – these transformations complicated Russian-German relations, almost undermining them.
2. I believe that the definition of a ‘reluctant hegemon’ cannot be applied to today’s Germany anymore. Actually, Germany has never been an EU's hegemon, the country is the Union’s leader committed to the conception of the ‘leadership from the center’. It means that Germany plays a coordinating role among the EU members rather than rules over them.
Moreover, Germany is not ‘reluctant’ anymore. Since 2014, Germany has acted within a new foreign policy framework and new framework for security and defence policy was introduced this year. Both conceptions suggest an active, responsible, and global foreign policy. This new policy can be seen in Germany's actions in Iraq, Syria as well as in the Baltic at the Russian border.
The new German foreign and defense policy framework does not consider Russia as a partner anymore, the country is rather perceived as a challenge to both the global and the European order.
3. Today, the EU's CSDP is awaiting important decisions. After three years of debates, the European defense union seems to have became a reality. If it is established, it will seriously change the situation in European security.
There are certain expectations, especially in Russia, that the EU's defense and security integration will became an alternative to NATO and weaken the transatlantic ties. I think, it will not and can not. Primarily, because of the position of the Central European and Baltic countries, which are afraid of Russia and, at the same time, do not have confidence in the West European countries as security guarantors. Germany and other supporters of the defense union cannot ignore this circumstance.
However, as a security and defense actor, the EU can complement NATO in terms of reassurance policy on the “eastern flank” as well as defense integration of the Eastern Partnership countries.
4. The European defense union will be the first step towards the development of the ‘Core Europe’. I believe that the Core Europe is the future of the EU, since, only with an integrated core, the EU can take on full responsibility for the foreign and defense policy and be a successful global player.
However the Core Europe is impossible without the inclusion of key eastern members of the EU, for instance, Poland. Otherwise, the creation of the Core Europe will divide the EU, and its Central European and Baltic members will seek to promote their own alternative projects, for example, the Intermarium – a union of countries between the Baltic and Black Sea.
Thus, there are two main alternatives to the current unconsolidated EU integration model in terms of political and security matters. These alternatives are either the development of Core Europe bringing together the western and eastern key members or a rift between the West and the East of the EU. I am convinced that the former will become the reality.
5. The relations between the EU and Russia as two potential global players will follow the pattern of a clash of interests rather than partnership.
The region of common neighborhood will remain a major issue in the relations between the EU and Russia. Competition between the economic integration projects in this region caused the civil war in Ukraine. However, the tragic Ukraine events did not result in a U-turn in the politics, nor did they bring the EU and Russia to a substantive dialog about the common neighborhood issue.
As I mentioned before, the next step can be the development of defense integration between the EU and some of the Eastern Partnership countries, which will certainly provoke a sharp reaction from Russia and make the relations between the EU and Russia more difficult.
Nevertheless, this all doesn't make a comprehensive dialogue useless, quite the contrary, it makes it urgently necessary.
Thus three short conclusions.
Firstly, a return to once special relations and strategic partnership between Germany and Russia is not very likely today. Probably, this return is not also a matter of necessity, because the Germany’s foreign policy is becoming increasingly inseparable from the EU policy. Therefore, it is more reasonable to focus today on the relations between the EU and Russia and, when it comes to economy, between the EU and the Eurasian Union. Moreover, there is a need for a substantive dialogue in the area of both economy and security.
Secondly, such a dialogue requires changes in the positions of the eastern EU members, especially Poland and the Baltic countries, as well as in their relations with Russia. It seems to be a very difficult objective. But its an objective that is crucial for the future of the EU-Russia relations and for the future of Europe as whole.
Thirdly, there is a need for a complex solution to the common neighborhood problem, which could put an end to the geopolitical competition between the EU and Russia in this region. It is important to return to the idea of a common economic area, which could include not only the EU and the Eurasian Union but also the in-between countries. There is also a need for a new common dialogue about security in Europe, especially, security of non-aligned countries.
In all three cases, the Russian-German bilateral dialogue can be very helpful. However, Russia should recognize that Germany can pursue its foreign policy only as an integral and the leading part of the EU. At the same time, Germany should reconsider its position and develop a fact-based perspective on Russia’s policy and interests. This could bring together the diverging political narratives about the political processes in Europe, and especially about the processes in its Eastern part.