French President Emanuel Macron has been leading the charge in recalibrating Europe’s political relationship with Russia. Rather than seeking direct confrontation against the regime, the French leader has looked to end the Kremlin’s isolation and alienation from Europe. Macron believes that Russia is essential in the security of Europe and that by integrating Russia into Europe, the leader will be able to create some kind of security architecture that includes Russia.
Macron’s vision is rooted in the foreign policy of former President Charles de Gaulle, who, during the Cold War, had the idea of incorporating Russia into Europe and forming a united Europe that would stretch from the Atlantic to the Urals. Macron has looked to revive this ideology and rekindle his relationship with the Russian president by inviting Vladimir Putin to the Château de Versailles in 2017 and showcasing his eagerness for better Russo-European relations at the 2020 Munich Security Conference.
However, the question remains: who profits from this new European diplomatic approach?
Europe Lacks Results
In the short term, it appears that Putin has reaped most of the benefits, not Europe. For starters, Macron’s overtures to Russia have resulted in the undermining of Europe’s enlargement efforts. In 2019, the French President chose to veto the opening of EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia to avoid vexing the Russian leader. The move was dubbed as a terrible mistake given the two countries’ extraordinary efforts in reaching accession.
For instance, North Macedonia went as far as changing its name to help settle a two-decade long dispute with Greece, and open up a route to the EU. Macron’s move undermined the political credibility of the pro-EU leader Zoran Zaev and helped strengthen far-right parties, meaning that future EU-led reform will be challenging to achieve. France’s closure to expansion has left the EU without a credible framework for relations with not only its Western Balkan neighbourhood, but with countries such as Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia who have all expressed their EU membership ambitions.
Macron has also compromised the EU’s desires to resolve the Syrian crisis. He has failed to openly critique Russia’s backing of President Bashar Al-Assad who has been bombing hospitals, civilians, and schools in Syria. The ongoing war has continued to fuel the growing Syrian diaspora which has helped facilitate the rise of far-right, Eurosceptic parties across the EU; making it harder for France and Germany to get the member states on board with their ideas.
Macron argues that “pushing Russia away from Europe is a major strategic error.” However, the leader must ensure that his overtures are not unilateral. In doing this, he will have to continually make progress in easing tensions in the separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine as well as pursuing the removal of Russian support from Libya and Syria, whilst simultaneously not compromising the EU’s efforts in integrating countries of the Western Balkans. The French President must not take Russian subversion campaigns in the Western Balkans lightly. Moscow has long looked to slow accession processes of Balkan states into the EU and Western alliances such as NATO.
If successful, Macron could drive Russia away from China and undermine China’s geopolitical and economic position. Macron could also increase Russia’s level of dependence on the EU, which would, in return, help Europe reign in the Kremlin. If Russia is more dependent on the EU for trade, Moscow might think twice before they carry out another poisoning or fuel another armed conflict.
Ultimately, greater isolation of Russia is certainly not the way forward. As the former Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said, isolating and alienating Russia only makes them “even more aggressive, unpredictable and dangerous.”