LONDON – People used to think that the most important decisions affecting Europe were made in Paris, Berlin, or Brussels. But in recent months, as the European Union has confronted the refugee crisis, and the Syrian conflict that is fueling it, Moscow and Ankara have come to the fore. And the EU is divided on how to deal with its two disgruntled neighbors, Russia and Turkey, both of which feel increasingly snubbed by the West.
The EU-Russia relationship has long exposed EU member states’ varying historic, geographic, and economic interests. While all EU countries agreed on sanctions against Russia after it annexed Crimea in March 2014, this temporary unity belies member states’ fundamentally different views about the kind of relationship they want for the long term.
Europe’s new cold warriors, such as Estonia, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, have stood up to Russian aggression; but Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, and other countries only signed on to sanctions reluctantly, and are more open to engagement with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government.
Turkey is in a different category, because it is a NATO member and a candidate (at least in principle) for EU membership. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been no less a source of division in Europe than Putin has. In the past, Turkey was seen as a potential EU member state and a model for Islamic liberal democracy; today, it is mainly seen as a geopolitical buffer zone.