Ph.D. in History, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, RIAC member
The current trends in Russia–EU relations carry a number of risks that should be mentioned when predicting possible scenarios for the further deterioration of these relations. The general deterioration of European security due to the expiration of the INF Treaty, the degradation of confidence-building measures, and the start of an arms race, including hi-tech weapons (understanding that the military-political situation in Europe cannot change drastically in 2020, and military spending in European countries is not expected to rise sharply). The continued competition for influence in the post-Soviet space, including Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia (the collapse of the political coalition in Moldova in the autumn of 2019 is a negative sign), and the further divergence of stances on the Donbass settlement will have a particularly negative effect on relations. The intensification of sub-regional competition between Russia and the European Union (this competition appears to be particularly dangerous in the Western Balkans, given the possibility of an acute political crisis in one or more of the countries in the region).
The intensification of the information war in Europe (in particular, the European Union may approve a “blacklist” of Russian media outlets, while Russia may significantly expand its own list of “undesirable” European organizations); we cannot rule out the possibility that investigations may be launched in some EU states in connection with accusations of Russia interfering in their elections and supporting separatists and political extremists. The harsh confrontation between Russia and some EU member countries in pan-European organizations (PACE, OSCE); 2020 will be a challenging year in the history of these organizations, which will be put under immense political pressure. The further politicization of energy cooperation between Russia and the European Union (for instance, the emergence of new issues in completing work on Nord Stream 2; and the blatant refusal of some EU states to prolong gas contracts with Russia). The clash between Russian and European interests in some regions of the world, including Africa and Latin America, and competition between Russia and Europe for preferential relations with Turkey might posit a particular issue.
Unfortunately, “black swans” may very well throw a spanner in the works – the unfortunate incident in Salisbury in March 2018 and the events in the Kerch Strait in November of the same year are prime examples. Such events may again lead to a deterioration of relations between Moscow and Brussels, regardless of who is to blame. A distinctive feature of Russia–EU relations today is that significant progress should be visible along the entire line of interaction between the parties, while a single negative event in any of these areas is enough to provoke a new crisis. This makes the process of restoring even limited cooperation extraordinarily fragile and unstable. This situation will continue throughout 2020.
At the same time, we can identify several most promising areas of Russia–EU cooperation where, under favorable circumstances, certain practical results may be achieved as early as 2020. Progress in settling the conflict in the east of Ukraine, expanding interaction in the “shared neighborhood,” deepening interaction on Iran-related issues, launching full-fledged dialogue between the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union, developing a new “energy/environmental plan” for Europe, preserving pan-European areas, and developing a new “road map” for the development of the OSCE are the main fields of possible cooperation.