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What’s Freezing Europe-Russia Relations?

French President Emmanuel Macron is right to worry about the disintegration of the global arms-control regime and a Russia that is increasingly tied to China. But given that the divide between Russia and the European Union is over fundamental values, there is no reason to think that the relationship can be improved anytime soon.

BERLIN – Although the European Union and Russia are part of the same landmass, they don’t have all that much in common. In fact, Russians have yet even to decide where their country resides in the world. The bulk of its territory is in Asia, but over 70% of its people live west of the Ural Mountains. Russians have no interest in associating themselves with East Asia or the Islamic South, so their only choice is to go it alone or orient themselves toward Europe.

But going it alone is risky. Russia is a nuclear-armed colossus, yet it is declining demographically, economically, and technologically. The country still earns its living by exporting fossil fuels and other commodities, which is hardly sufficient for maintaining superpower status in the twenty-first century. It is increasingly at risk of becoming a junior partner to China.

The only alternative, then, is Europe. But both sides are prisoners of their respective histories. Memories of oppressive rule under the czars and the Soviets remain raw in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and the Baltics, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and military campaign in Eastern Ukraine have reinforced distrust of Russia across the region.

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