As Ukraine’s agonizing struggle for democracy continues, Europeans wonder if the politics of principle can ever eclipse the politics of power. Is it naive to believe that the world amounts to more than zero-sum thinking? Can Europe promote fair play in international affairs, or must it accept a new game of great power rivalry as inevitable and throw itself into the fray?
Many Europeans see themselves as champions of global fair play. But Europe’s opinion of its integrity is not always shared.
One example is Russia, which is skeptical about the EU’s intentions, most recently over Ukraine. That should not surprise us. The EU has expanded from six members to 25, with Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, and Turkey waiting in the wings. Russia wants to know where the Union will stop. Does it plan to swallow Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caucasus? Most EU members view these as open questions, unlikely to be resolved soon. The Kremlin, however, seems to see in such vagueness a smokescreen hiding the Union’s true intentions, though the recent EU-Russia summit provided an opportunity to clear the air.
In a sense, critics of the EU are right: the Union may be on a quest to reshape the world in its image. Nowadays, when the EU concludes agreements with non-EU countries, it includes all sorts of stiff requirements in areas like human rights, non-proliferation, readmission of migrants, and terrorism. To countries on the receiving end, these conditions can seem like a subtle form of power politics, with Europe trying to impose its values on the world.