Why doesn't Russia join the EU?

If they become one of them, then they would not be enemies anymore, right?

They have already joined the G-20. Then, they could also join EU, right?

  • 18
    Are you asking why Russia doesn't want to join, or (assuming they do) why other members don't want them to join? There's definitely a complicated past there...
    – Geobits
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 14:50
  • There is a "World Union" called the United Nations, but it didn't have a lot of success in preventing war between its members. Its ancestor, the League of Nations, couldn't prevent WW2. Also, you are assuming that UE and/or Russia have problems with being enemies. As the French president de Gaulle once said "No Nation has friends, only interests."
    – Taladris
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 12:03
  • Question about Russia and another European institution: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/23376/…
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 6:08

6 Answers 6


The European Union has very strict standards for joining it, both economical and political. This includes inflation rate, budget deficit, democracy (as the EU understands it), gay and human rights etc. Russia does not satisfy them.

Also the EU has very strict trade, industrial and ecological standards, such that Russian industry, agriculture and infrastructure does not satisfy them. For instance, Russia would have to scrap most of its currently used automobiles. The cost for the industry to catch up with the EU standards is enormous. This was also the argument against association agreement in Ukraine. Some of the new EU members (Bulgaria, Baltic states, East Germany to an extent) lost nearly all of their industries after joining after they were unable to compete with the EU industries or were unfriendly fused. For instance, Latvia had lost its automobile and electronics industries.

Abandoned RAF factory in Riga, 2010

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And its last produced model, RAF Stils M2

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Additionally, any EU member state can veto Russian participation, and no doubt the Baltic states and/or Poland will do it.

Besides this, there is a great anti-EU and anti-Western sentiment in Russia, especially concerning some of the EU values like gay rights but also including political and economic.

  • 25
    Also, Russia has 120 million population and such a huge territory that it'd become the leader of the EU if it joined (also see the question, why doesn't Turkey join the EU). Also "gay rights" isn't really an EU value, just minority rights in general. Putin uses homophobia as part of his propaganda to say "look those guys are gays", this is of course wrong.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 21:35
  • 28
    @Anixx , Just now I discovered that your information about 'RAF Autobus" is absolutely wrong. Latvia joined the EU on 1 May 2004. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . But, RAF went bankrupt in 1998. kommersant.com/tree.asp?rubric=2&node=22&doc_id=345742
    – user4514
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 9:59
  • 10
    @BROY this does not matter. RAF went bankrupt because it could not withstand competition (Latvia opened its market to the EU at the time). After joining the EU competition only increases, and also any protectionist measures and government help are forbidden removing any hope for restoring. Till 2004 they still had all the production lines in order so that they could start production at any moment.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 12:05
  • 25
    "gay and human rights" Are gays not human?
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 10:15
  • 20
    @Joze they're separate issues
    – Pyritie
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 11:44

Russia is a European nation. 75% of its population resides west of the Ural mountains. It shares Europe's Christian and Enlightenment heritage. It is a member of the Council of Europe and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The rest of Eastern Europe has clamored to join the Union, so why not Russia?

A. Russia is not interested

Modern Russia (much like the UK) has outdated pretensions to great power status. The current leadership regards the dissolution of the Soviet Union as a "catastrophe". They see their "near abroad" not as true sovereign nations but as part of a natural Russian sphere of influence.

They hope to establish their own regional power block, led by Russia, within the shell of her former empire, either through soft power organisations like the Eurasian Economic Union, or outright military aggression against Ukraine, Georgia and other nations.

The current leadership also apparently believes that the Cold War is an ongoing affair, and that Russia remains engaged in a zero-sum power struggle with North America and Western Europe.

In short, Russia's leaders don't wish to join the EU because it would mean accepting their nation is no longer a great power, entering into an equal partnership with a number of former colonies, and sharing sovereignty with perceived enemies in Paris and Berlin.

B. Russia is currently ineligible

EU membership is open only to nations that respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Under her current leadership Russia fails all three of these criteria.

Once they have joined, the EU apparently has no effective means of ensuring that members remain liberal and democratic. But that is another subject.

In its 2019 report Freedom House classifies Russia, under its current leadership, as "unfree", summarising as follows:

Power in Russia’s authoritarian political system is concentrated in the hands of President Vladimir Putin. With loyalist security forces, a subservient judiciary, a controlled media environment, and a legislature consisting of a ruling party and pliable opposition factions, the Kremlin is able to manipulate elections and suppress genuine dissent. Rampant corruption facilitates shifting links among bureaucrats and organized crime groups.

It is worth reading in full: Freedom in the World 2019 - Russia

  • 5
    So much smearing of Russia in this answer. It's not Russia alone who believe we're in new Cold War: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Cold_War. It is not that Russia doesn't respects democracy, rights and law. It's that they don't mach your prefered definition for those terms, but who're you to say that your view is best? And of course even after EU comission put blame Georgia on starting the conflict (echr.coe.int/Documents/HUDOC_38263_08_Annexes_ENG.pdf) you still write "military agression against Georgia". Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 9:02
  • Obligatory smearing of UK too... "outdated pretensions to great power status". Kinda like how Canada has pretensions to great power status by not being in political union with USA, or South Korea with China
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 16:10
  • 3
    Matt, neither Canada nor South Korea is a former superpower, so they are unlikely be under any illusions in that regard. Obviously there are also plenty of other reasons why a country might choose not to join a political union. But in the case of Britain and Russia their former great power status, and a resulting sense of national exceptionalism, are certainly going to be factors in their attitude to becoming part of a larger power bloc (as equal partner rather than ruler).
    – Iota
    Commented Sep 7, 2019 at 15:14
  • 2
    @OlegV.Volkov " It is not that Russia doesn't respects democracy, rights and law. It's that they don't mach your prefered definition for those terms ..." I am curious, what is your definition of these terms that is compatible with the current political situation in Russia? Here are some thoughts on democracy by the Council of Europe: coe.int/en/web/compass/democracy Note that they include humans rights like freedom of assembly as a pillar of democracy. This right is guaranteed by the Russian constitution, but in practice subverted by the police who arrests peaceful protesters. Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 11:27
  • 1
    @GeorgPatscheider The original "rule of the people", of course, what else? And you provide the usual misunderstanding or outright lie about "police subverting". In pretty much every country, basic rights stated in Constitution are further regulated by laws. You have freedom of movement, but if you try to "freely move" by walking inside car flow on highway you will be caught and fined by guess who - the police. Did you check out cases of "peaceful protestors" and what they were arrested for? Let me guess: of course you didn't. Otherwise you'd knew what law they broke. Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 12:54

Anixx already covered a lot of ground (+1) but note that the G-20 and EU are not alike at all.

The G-20 is a sort of discussion forum, where leaders occasionally agree on vague non-binding declarations. Becoming a member is just a matter of being invited to the summits, there isn't even a treaty or permanent staff of any kind.

The EU is first and foremost a common market based on a massive set of norms regulating just about any aspect of an economy (with institutions to maintain them and a few other things around that). Beside negotiating a complex treaty that has to be approved by all 28 current members, joining the EU therefore requires adopting all the rules developed since 50+ years (it's called the acquis). You can just skim through this Wikipedia article about EU enlargement to get a feeling for the complexity of the process.

Even if there was interest on both sides (which does not seem to be the case to say the least), it would be very difficult for Russia to do that. Even getting to the point where Turkey is at the moment would seem far from trivial.

  • 3
    On a day-to-day basis, the EU is a shared economic and regulatory zone; but I don't think Russia would qualify for the spirit of the EU (anti-nationalism) either. Brexit (a year after the original question) was ultimately a re-embrace of nationalism; and something I suspect the UK was less ashamed of since British nationalism was considered a good thing in WW2. Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 7:00

While there are official standards that a country must meet to be eligible for membership they aren't always enforced if the political will to accept them is there (for example it was an open secret that Greece was cooking its books long before any crisis hit but nobody cared) and some countries can get all sorts of special deals (just look at the UK) too.

So the real reason is that the political climate is opposed to this and will be for the conceivable future (aka as long as the EU is the USA's lap dog).

On the Russian side the reasons are similar....

If there ever were a United States of Europe that included Russia it would be the biggest and most powerful country in the world so you can see why other countries might get a bit worried.

  • 1
    (-1) I don't think this is accurate. Greece and the UK have been members for a long time so these examples aren't particularly relevant. And for all their failings in other areas, they still implement most of the acquis and are fully integrated into the common market. It's true the EU has less powers when it comes to actual than prospective members, can occasionally overlook some departure from political or deficit obligations or strike special deals but a basic level of economic integration is required and would not be trivial for Russia to achieve. So it's not only about political will.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 7:36
  • 2
    @Relaxed worth noting, that in any democratic union, it would be logical to see some sort of discussion and negotiation, rather than an authoritarian ultimatum that says "destroy more than half of your industry, or you can't join". One of the arguments that Russia keeps coming back to, is "stop using ultimatums and lets negotiate". It's extremely valid. Russia isn't opposed to cooperation with EU or US, but the manner in which EU and US (i.e. NATO) "negotiate" (do as I say or die) is not acceptable.
    – MishaP
    Commented Jul 28, 2021 at 10:40

Russia is an eurasian country. It has more territory in asia than in europe. But above that, there is nothing for Russia to gain from an hipotetical union with the EU. Russia has repeatedly stated that its policy os totally independant and that it will continue to be so. Therefore, it could never enter into an agreement where it's policy would be dictated by european and american interests.

  • 1
    Turkey has an even larger part of its territory in Asia, and is a candidate. That argument doesn't hold.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented May 6, 2018 at 23:00
  • @Sjoerd still it's pretty much spot on past two first sentences. Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 9:09
  • @OlegV.Volkov That part of the answer was already covered by other answers at that point in time.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 13:17
  • @Sjoerd But Turkey is a NATO member.
    – convert
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 13:27

There's a detailed economic theory about influence of borders on profitability of trade. In two words,

  1. A border between two very similar territories generates nothing but losses for everybody. Always. Unconditionally. These borders tend to disappear like what happened in the EU.

  2. A border between two very different territories generates significant profits to cross-border traders. At the same time, it generates losses for other economical agents. The number of traders is relatively small when compared to the number of other agents. Thus, the profits of the traders are "concentrated" and the losses of others are evenly distributed across countries. Individual profits of traders are significant enough to let these traders sponsor the lobby that supports the existence of the border. Other agents may choose to ignore their small losses because setting up a lobby for eliminating the border is a costly business. One should be as smart as Otto von Bismarck to overweight the lobby, to eliminate the border, to provide the benefits of free trade to everybody. Alternatively, one can use brute force to join neighboring territories and equalize the conditions across the border so the new configuration is stable due to the absence of an old lobby.

For Russia and the EU, we have case 2, obviously, due to totally different physical conditions on the territories. At the same time, both the EU and Russian politicians are far away from Bismarck's level, so there's no chance they can eliminate the border.

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