3

Russia has stated (prior to the formal invasion of Ukraine) that NATO poses an "existential threat" to itself. Interestingly, a paper from 6 years prior evaluates whether Russia is an existential threat to NATO. The European Union also has a collective defense clause (that has never been tested) that functions similarly to the NATO defense clause. Both organizations' clauses do mention that the alliance is a defensive obligation.

Obviously, there is large overlap between the organizations. Notably, the EU is missing the US and the UK. In a recent statement, Russia officially states that the US is an existential threat so the lack of the US in the EU is likely a deal breaker. This brings the question then is the EU even a political body that can influence Russia (nevermind deter it from an invasion)? Ignoring the fact that Russia has significant influence in the EU, even to the point of members like Germany, France, and Austria stating that US sanctions on Russian energy are illegal in 2017, can the EU actually pose a threat politically? Sanctions do not seem to be deterring Russia from further invasion and Russia specifically calls out NATO expansion as red lines but seems to ignore similar talks about expanding the EU. It does help to keep in context that the de facto purpose of NATO on creation was to counter the USSR (whose successor state is now Russia), whereas the EU is an economic union with defense tacked on later.

There seems to be some confusion on what the question is asking so I'll clarify what a "political threat" means. Entity A poses a political threat to Entity B if A can influence B to the point of acting in the interests of A instead of B. Regardless of official statements, many countries are de facto in this situation. North Korea is an example of B where China is A, in a protectorate/vassal relationship. Turkey and the KSA are in such a relationship, but in a different type of relationship (regional hegemony). NATO and Russia are in such a relationship, where NATO can essentially strong-arm Russia.

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  • 2
    Are you asking if Russia defines EU as a threat similat to NATO?
    – convert
    Aug 4 at 19:08
  • 9
    Frankly the last para makes the answer a "no" with respect to most countries' relations. NK doesn't always act in the interests of China. And I have no idea what you mean about the Turkey-KSA relationship. Nor is it too clear what you mean by "NATO can essentially strong-arm Russia". Obviously it didn't work out like that in Ukraine, unless you're using some sense of "strong-arm" that's not obvious to me.
    – Fizz
    Aug 5 at 1:43
  • 9
    The current Russian government considers everything an "existential threat" to that regime. Part of the internal propanganda is to create an image of Russia threatened on all side by all things, particularly invoking the Great Patriotic War. In reality the threat is to Putin and his allies and they're deathly afraid of it because they remember the fall of the Soviet Union. Aug 5 at 12:47
  • 2
    Also, France actually did invoke the EU's collective defense clause after the Paris attack of 2015. reuters.com/article/us-france-shooting-eu-idUSKCN0T72F020151118 ; icds.ee/en/france-is-at-war But you're right to say that it wasn't tested in a conventional war.
    – Fizz
    Aug 5 at 14:32
  • 1
    @StephenG-HelpUkraine I quoted every time I made an extreme statement like "existential threat" so I would appreciate that you not ruin the quality of the question with unquoted hyperbole. It's actually crazy that people would even up vote an unsourced statement like that.
    – uberhaxed
    Aug 5 at 19:16

6 Answers 6

35

There is one way in which the EU is a threat to Russia, but it isn't the "Make Russia act in the interests of the EU" kind of threat.

The EU is more economically successful than Russia, and it does that with governments that are less corrupt, less centralised and less generally repressive of their people. Some fraction of the Russian population are aware of this, and wonder why they have the government that they do, and if they could have a better one.

That's a definite threat to Putin's popular support.

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  • 10
    @alamar, quite the opposite: Russia had two decades to learn but was unable to. In some ways, "bodies such as OSCE, European Court of Human Rights" are part of that "magic dust".
    – Zeus
    Aug 5 at 2:05
  • 24
    In the last 20 years, China has been incomparably more economically successful than the EU, despite being corrupt, centralised and extremely repressive with their people, so I'm not so sure russians are looking the EU or the USA with the puppy eyes you're supposing. While good governance may improve a country's success, countries which were poor before joining the EU are now the poorer EU countries (even if they have improved) while rich countries before EU are the EU richest countries. Not so much fairy dust here.
    – Rekesoft
    Aug 5 at 7:56
  • 7
    @alamar, indeed, just "sitting near to EU" is not very helpful, and never been. I guess what you are saying is that Russians just 'gave up' any hope and prefer to close the door, no matter that it's mostly their own fault? Maybe that's true (I'm not sure), but that's 'we have no choice' fallacy. And besides, why insist on taking the neighbours with you?
    – Zeus
    Aug 5 at 7:59
  • 8
    @Rekesoft, that's debatable on many points, but the truth is, even Russians overwhelmingly prefer to travel, study and live in the EU (or USA) than in China.
    – Zeus
    Aug 5 at 8:09
  • 6
    @alamar "Russia's non-EU neighbours also universally failed to acquire any magic dust." That's a bit of a misleading tautology. Most of Russia's non-EU neighbours have acquired a lot of magic dust, and in the process have joined the EU.
    – user43624
    Aug 5 at 8:56
11

To add a bit to the recent quote given in convert's answer, Russia's government has pretty much always seen the EU as the "lesser evil" compared to NATO, from their perspective. Consequently, their discourse and actions vary a bit depending what's at stake and what they can hope to obtain. When NATO expansion is discussed, they'd emphasize this difference, even going as far to say that EU is not a threat.

For example in June 2022, Putin was quoted/paraphrased saying:

Russia is not concerned that Ukraine could get the status of a European Union candidate “because the EU is not a military organization,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday.

On the other hand, it is well known that "Euromaidan" protests were immediately preceded by the Ukrainian government [of then] sudden switch from an agreement with the EU to one with CIS/Russia. (There's a related Q here why those goals are hard to reconcile.) A similar but more obscure story played out in the neighboring Moldova, where pro-Russia vs pro-EU governments had their diverging visions of whom to make economic treaties with. To reuse a relevant bit of my answer to that question here, although this quote comes from a firebrand and not quite from the top:

[Then] Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin has stated that “an [association agreement] with the EU is a change in the neutral status of Moldova. There is a certain rule that all NATO members know: in order to enter the EU, you are required to join NATO. This rule will not change for Moldova. All countries go through this. Therefore, association with the EU will be the moment when Moldova turns the doorknob of NATO.”

(One could half-jokingly say that in hindsight Rogozin was right, at least when it came to Finland and Sweden, both EU members now applying to join NATO, but of course, it took a few more events to get to the latter stage.)

Armenia is probably the only country that has really tried to straddle both the CIS/EACU camps and the EU, but leaning more towards Russia, i.e. their agreement with the EU is less comprehensive (despite its name containing that very word) compared to the ones with other countries from the region (whose EU agreements also contain the word "deep").

So basically, the Kremlin's priorities are usually in this order: stop NATO expansion, stop EU expansion. Of course, in politics when you can't prevent something, in order to preserve the optics of strength, one does not always disclose concerns or opposition, so you can even find Putin saying he's not worried (much) about NATO expansion e.g. in Finland/Sweden.

"As to enlargement, Russia has no problem with these states - none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion (of NATO) to include these countries," Putin told the leaders of a Russian-dominated military alliance of former Soviet states [CSTO].

"But the expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response," Putin said.

Concerns are relative/graded: if you can't stop a political enlargement, you express opposition to later concrete steps etc.

5

If Russia has ambitions to invade some of the EU member states then, yes, collective defence agreements are the big problem for them because EU in completeness may be stronger.

If there are no such plans, that is the problem, what is any difference for them? It is a collective defence agreement and not a collective attack agreement. If any (reasonably idiotic) EU country would attack Russia on its own, others can always say "just stop your nonsense, you are not under the threat".

It is a Russian propaganda narrative to see defence agreements as something that threatens them and they cannot live with. While European narrative is, these complains are the obvious proof that Russia seriously plans to go after them when done with Ukraine so let's give more weapons and put more sanctions to keep them busy away from us.

2

Acording to a statement by russian representative to UN which can be read in this article, Russia sees EU membership of Ukraine as a similar threat like NATO. Here the translation of the relevante part of the article:

Polyansky announced a change in Russia's position on the issue of Ukraine's membership in the EU

Diplomat Polyansky announced a change in Russia's position on the issue of Ukraine's membership in the EU

WASHINGTON, May 12 - RIA Novosti. Russia's position on Ukraine's aspirations to join the European Union has changed, said Dmitry Polyansky, First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, in an interview with the British online publication UnHerd News.

"I think at that time (at the time of the talks in Istanbul - ed. note) we were not very worried about the European Union. But the situation changed after Mr. Borrell's statement that "this war must be won on the battlefield." < ... > I think our position on (Ukraine's accession. - Ed.) to the EU is more similar to the position on Ukraine's accession to NATO", the Russian diplomat noted, stressing that the EU is the leader in arms supplies to Kyiv in this sense as well Moscow does not see much difference between the EU and NATO.

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  • If a NATO member exactly attacks another country, other members are free not to join. NATO is defensive organization.
    – Stančikas
    Aug 4 at 21:19
  • 1
    But what happens when "another country" attacks NATO member's territory in response? You are not winning a common border war without doing stikes beyond that border.
    – alamar
    Aug 4 at 21:29
  • 3
    This has already been asked, see politics.stackexchange.com/questions/9848/…
    – Stančikas
    Aug 4 at 21:40
  • 1
    Somewhat later they clarified that the aid only involved the financing but not the delivery of such aid, which was left to member states. Nonetheless, EU itself financing military aid [for Ukraine] was self-admitted to be unprecedented in the org's history (at least with respect to non-member countries) europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document/EPRS_ATA(2022)729436
    – Fizz
    Aug 5 at 14:28
  • 2
    @Stančikas If NATO is defensive organization as you suggest, then why did it attack Libya - one sovereign country? My country (which is a member of NATO) didn't participate in that murderous bloodshed (at least not directly) but the blood of Libyans is still on my hands as I am tax payer and part of it goes to NATO. Is that new definition of "defense" - to attack another country on another continent (remember, NATO is European and North American defense pact - it doesn't mention other continents and it is not supposed to operate on them).
    – dosvarog
    Aug 5 at 16:09
0

Politically, the EU can't strategise effectively against Russia unless a crisis brings the EU leaders into agreement. Trade-wise, the EU has the possibility to reduce Russian wealth by 150 billion per year. Technologically, it can stop Russia from having equipment that powers 50% of it's value-added resource processing. Militarily the EU is equivalent to Russia, and provides a military stalemate if there is a direct conflict.

-1

The difference between NATO and EU is that latter has much more strict economic conditions for applying states.

EU may only accept either small countries (Baltic states) or countries with developed economy (I guess they would accept Norway or Switzerland if these are to apply). But in general, applications to EU are put on hold as the block suffers some malaise with Brexit, ECB one-rate-fits-all, PIIGS debts, etc, etc. Russia is fairly confident that EU is not going to seriously admit any more of ex-USSR countries (which Russia expects to project power over) - they will simply never qualify economy-wise.

NATO is a military block so it may accept most every country. That includes any of ex-USSR ones. That would make such a country protected from any attacks from Russia (via nuclear war threat) while allowing that country leading any kind of wars against its neighbours with impunity, or a proxy war with Russia itself. Such as, a NATO-member Azerbaijan could launch a (proxy or otherwise) war against Armenia and Russia will not be able to attack targets on Azerbaijan territory, which in this case would host artillery and radars and Bayraktar drones, etc, dealing huge losses to Russia and its allies as they try to defend.

So realistically NATO expansion is much more of a threat than EU expansion.

11
  • Expansion is not the focus of the question. Is the current EU's opinion even considered in the Russian parliament when making decisions, to the point that Russia will change course of it will displease the EU? Parliament being a proxy for however political decisions are made in Russia.
    – uberhaxed
    Aug 4 at 19:40
  • Current - probably not. But EU had huge amount of influence in Russia between 2001 and 2021, directly and via bodies such as OSCE, European Court of Human Rights.
    – alamar
    Aug 4 at 19:42
  • 1
    "a NATO-member Azerbaijan": I think you don't understand NATO. Article 5 is a "defensive" article, meaning NATO will help in case of defensive action (for Russian trolls: that implies attacks on your own territory). Look at all the NATO countries in fights (France in somewhere Africa? Turkey Syria). Now even in the invasion of Iraq NATO helped. You actually just said that countries "apply", so it's not really that NATO expands. It's that more countries want to join NATO. Ever thought about why? Why don't they join, say, CSTO? Bad experience? You name it! And it's about EU, not NATO.
    – Mayou36
    Aug 5 at 16:27
  • @Mayou36 If for example Azerbaijan attacks its neighbouring Armenia then Armenia has to counterattack on Azerbaijanian territory, which would potentially trigger Article 5. It's a very different scenario than oversea operations such as France in Africa.
    – alamar
    Aug 5 at 16:32
  • 3
    @alamar it would not. This doesn't seem like a good defense case. Look at Iraqi freedom where the US claimed to have been attacked, not all NATO countries were convinced. If you think in such a case NATO would attack, please do some research and provide sources. Your scenario is just very unrealistic. Realistic is though that Russia is attacking Ukraine. Completely unprovoked. And attacked other neighbours in the past. They want to be protected from bullies. That's why they want to join NATO. Turn that as you wish but you cannot change how things are ;)
    – Mayou36
    Aug 5 at 17:21

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