By excluding one another from initiatives promoting engagement and integration with post-Soviet states, the West and Russia have created an inadvertent and unnecessary rivalry.

On 28–29 November, the leaders of the six countries designated by the European Union as members of its Eastern Partnership (EaP) programme – Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – will meet with the European Council in Vilnius, Lithuania. This summit is widely portrayed as the dramatic climax of these countries’ recent history as independent states. They must finally choose, so the narrative goes, between East and West, Russia and the EU, corruption and reform, or even backwardness and modernity.

While the EU offers EaP countries free trade, visa liberalisation and a European future, Russia, we often read, is actively seeking to thwart EU policy and crush the European aspirations of the region’s citizens. Through its Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, now called the Eurasian Economic Union, Moscow supposedly seeks to reintegrate its neighbours into its ‘sphere of influence’ and re-establish Soviet-style dominance over the region.

This narrative accurately reflects a widespread perception of the problem. However, it is deeply misleading as an analytical framework for understanding the problem’s core drivers. In reality, Russian motives are far more defensive and reactive – and, upon close examination, there is no inherent divergence of agendas between Moscow and Brussels that would make mutually acceptable compromise impossible. Instead of geopolitical or civilisational struggles, the right framework for understanding the ongoing competition between integration initiatives in post-Soviet Eurasia draws upon the concept of the security dilemma.

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Samuel Charap is Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia, IISS.

Mikhail Troitskiy is an Associate Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

December 2013–January 2014

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