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How Russian-europe Relations Deteriorated Due to The Recent Events in Ukraine

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Table of contents

  1. Abstract
  2. Introduction
  3. The conflict in Ukraine
    Central Asian States’ Trade with China and Russia
    One Belt One Road Initiative Roadmap


This paper examines Russia’s relations with Europe especially the deep-rooted history behind Ukraine-Russian relations, explaining how Russian-Europe relations deteriorated due to the recent events in Ukraine. These recent events in Europe explains how Russia has now turned east in the hopes of forging alliances, but find this equally frustrating due to increased competition in Central Asia and the rise of China as a Eurasian power. The paper summarizes that Russia is finding increasingly large roadblocks to becoming a regional power in Eurasia, but also offers how Russia should re-examine relations in Asia.


Russia’s role in the modern geopolitics of Eurasia cannot be understated. Despite the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia still fought for the regional influence in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. To examine Russia’s efforts in Eurasia, this paper examine Russia’s exertion of influence on countries in Asia and Europe, and explain why modern Russia has a great deal of difficulty influencing its powers in Eurasia.

To understand Russia’s relationship with the Europe and the West, Vyacheslav Nikonov, the chairman of the Duma’s Education Committee, believed that the difference between Russia and the West made amicable relations difficult. Russia, he argued, “was as much a part of Asia as Europe” (Rachman 2016, p. 183). Russia’s recent heritage was argued by Nikonov to have come from China through the Mongolians, rather than the West. The historical tax system and system of communication could be traced back to China. Peter the Great was the first tsar of Russia that pushed for a European system, and that fell apart after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The conditions that dictated Russia’s relations with Europe was conditioned by the state of Russia after the break-up of the Soviet Union, that is Russia has no other alternative but to reluctantly co-operate with Europe and the West. It could also be noted that Russia seems to be buying time to regain its former strength until the late 2000s, when a resurgent Russia finally began to flex its muscles. Russia shows that while energy dominance is its main foreign policy tool, it does not hesitate to use force of arms if necessary to keep its former republics in check and defend its sphere of influence against encroachment by the West. Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 were the two instances when Russia acted militarily, but for this case study Ukraine would be the focus on military actions.

The conflict in Ukraine

The question of many that are unfamiliar with the geopolitics of eastern Europe is “Why Ukraine?”. Ukraine and Russia have a lot in common. This stems from the fact that these two countries share language and family ties. While most Ukrainians speak both Ukrainian and Russian, the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine are dominated by Russian-speaking Ukrainians (Calamur 2014). For the Crimean Peninsula, Russia maintains its Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol, a strategic port in the Black Sea. Many of the population in the Crimean are Russian, which is no surprise given the Crimean Peninsula was part of the Soviet Union until 1954 when it was ceded to Ukraine as a present from President Nikita Khrushchev. A lot of Ukrainians work in Russia, and in return Russia has invested billions in Ukraine. According to official statistics from Ukraine in 2013, Russian investments account for 7% of total foreign investments in Ukraine. Ukraine is considered as the birthplace of Orthodox Christianity, Russia’s state religion. Ukraine was a part of the Russian empire, and was a priority for the Soviet Union to recapture beginning in 1943 after losing it to Nazi Germany two years ago. Ukraine was the most important Soviet republic until the USSR’s collapse.

Russia’s relation with the European Union (EU), and by extension the United States of America, began a downward spiral after the events in Ukraine. This all began when the pro-Russian government led by President Viktor Yanukovitch’s refused to sign an agreement advancing towards European Union membership. Interpreted by demonstrators as being biased towards Russia, demonstrations turn into violent crackdowns and the pro-Western Ukrainians overthrew the government. President Vladimir Putin of Russia interpreted this coup as a Western-backed attempt to weaken Russia’s “Eurasian Union”, and annexed Crimea. Later on Putin also began backing militants fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This was interpreted by the EU as an act of aggression by Russia on a former Soviet state, while Russia argued that it was a move to prevent Western encroachment. Nikonov believed that the American goal in Eurasia (by extension the EU) is global domination, and that Ukraine was to be a stronghold in Eastern Europe to contain Russia’s influence. The annexation of the Crimean Peninsula can also be seen as an international political litmus test as even non-Western democracies such as Brazil, India and South Africa have refrained from condemning Russia on this issue.

In response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, the bordering Eastern European countries began to arms up. Lithuania reinstated conscription and increased its defense spending. It even published three guides on emergency and war survival. Estonia increased its armed forces training and encouraged citizens to take up arms. Sweden reintroduced conscription. The European Union itself published “a list of sanctions against 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials, including the acting prime minister of Crimea, the speaker of the parliament of Crimea, three senior Russian military commanders and several senior Russian parliamentary officials”. These sanctions were expanded to travel restrictions and freezing of assets against “150 people and 38 companies” with ties to Russia or Russian nationals itself. One outlier of Europe’s increasingly hostile response to Russia is Germany. The proposed gas pipeline circumventing Ukraine and Poland – NordStream 2, have been gaining steam despite opposition ranging from central to eastern Europe. Germany has continued to support this pipeline with German-produced equipment. The Energy Minister of Germany even made a visit to Russia on 15 May 2018 to discuss joint energy ventures.

Still, Germany is the only European country that has good ties with Russia compared to the sea of European states that are increasingly hostile to Russia. All in all, while Russia continues to be the main energy supplier of the European Union, with almost 70% of energy exports headed for Europe, relations between the two factions are going downhill fast. This causes a major concern for Russia that if Europe is relying on Russian energy decreasingly, Russia must find countries that are willing to do trade with them without the ideological/political baggage like Europe.

As relations with Europe in general turn from amicable to bellicose, Russia has to turn to the east for like-minded allies instead. So given the International Monetary Fund’s announcement in 2014 that China is now the largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power, it is no surprise that Russia is now attempting to improve relations with China (and Asia) while “firming up the shores” of Europe (. This author argues that the move to ally with China is only a short-term strategy – China is actually a distant and looming threat to Russia that had to be made peace with while Russia prepares itself economically, a very similar fashion to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in 1939.

This move to China began to surface when Putin visited China in 2014 and a joint naval exercise held by both countries later the same year and the next. China signed a deal to construct a China-Siberia gas pipeline. On the surface this deal seems to be a win-win – China now has a secured energy source from a safer land route compared to the more vulnerable sea route, as well as less dependence on coal. For Russia, this move diversifies the energy market of Russia and reduces reliance on the increasingly hostile European Union. Beneath this veneer, it is widely believed (though not confirmed) that China has made a bargain that Russia would have rejected had it not found itself in this current geopolitical circumstance.

Russia, while a major regional power now and potentially a global power once again in the future, is beset with major problems. Chief of which is the fact that it’s population is falling at a rapid pace projected to decline from 141.4 million to 134.5 million in 2017 and 109.2 million in 2050. This is not a surprise given several factors – subpar lifestyle of alcohol and tobacco, environmental problems, infectious diseases and generally a low investment in health infrastructure. This led to a low birth rate and the average male life expectancy of 59. The demographic disparity between western Russia and eastern Russia is more pronounced – 7.4 million people in the east and more than 100 million in the west. This was a result of Russian expansion at the expense of its neighbours in Asia, including China (Rachman 2016 p. 190). This disparity however, has resulted in a massive wealth gap between eastern and western Russia that has still not been rectified.

For China, its nationalism has not forgiven that the Tsarist Russia was part of the conquest in the 1800s that partitioned China. Vladivostok, the major Russian port and trade centre in the east, was originally owned by China. While Nikonov argued that China has always looked east towards the sea and viewed the north as a threat – hence the Great Wall was built for protectionism, what Nikonov and supporters of this view failed to acknowledge is that mass Chinese immigration into Russia’s far east is already taking place. In 2014 there are over 1 million Chinese refugees entering Russia illegally, much of them the northeast such as Vladivostok. Even if the immigration of Chinese nationals into Russia is half the number of what is reported in 2014, the Far East of Russia would be a Chinese majority area by 2030.

Central Asian States’ Trade with China and Russia

Russia’s attempts to influence Central Asia has also been complicated by the economic might of China. The Eurasian Economic Union is one case to examine. Formed in 2015 by Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, it was supposed to be just an economic organization. Questions can be raised about the viability of this description given the intent of Central Asian countries and Russia’s ambition. A chart from Stratafor shows that Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan has more economic ties with China then Russia, making Russia being just a member of this Central Asian community instead of the leader. From the 1990s to 2017, total trade between Central Asia and China rose from $1 billion per year to $30 billion per year, in contrast to Russia’s $18.6 billion of total trade with Central Asia. Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union is therefore no match to China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The new Chinese government under Xi Jinping has made the development of the new “Silk Road” a priority, conflicting with the interests of Russia. This can be seen when China and Russia made state visits to Kazakhstan separately, with both countries pushing for their own agendas. While both regional powers attempted to stress that their visions of Eurasia do not clash, it seems that both powers are now preparing to clash for the king of the Eurasian hill.

One Belt One Road Initiative Roadmap

As the geopolitical vis-à-vis battle of Eurasia continues, Russia finds itself in a very difficult position. Russia’s relations with the European Union are deteriorating as each day goes, with an ever increasingly-belligerent European Union encroaching Russia from the west. Although relations with China seemed to be improving at least on surface levels, China and Russia seemed to be economically aligned superficially, just like the ill-fated non-aggression pact in 1939, buying time until a confrontation inevitably occurs. Russia feels increasingly isolated as Central Asian nations – the traditional power bloc at the height of the Soviet Union, all began to focus attention towards trade with China. It can only be concluded that Russia seems to be neither east or west inclined, and unless some form of power balance could be found in Europe or Central Asia, would be increasingly find itself isolated from the Eurasian sphere of influence.

Perhaps these verses from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses would help illustrate how Russia should fit in this Eurasian jig-saw puzzle:

“We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;”

“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

This poem finds resonance to what Russia finds in this Eurasian predicament. That Russia has been made weaker by time and fate, but still holds that nationalistic nostalgia that somehow, some ways it will be the predominant power of Eurasia again. That while Russia still has regional power, it should assess this power in a more realistic way with the ever-changing geopolitical situation of Eurasia. That Russia should “strive, seek and find” it’s strength again, not for Eurasian domination, but in cooperation with other powers such as China and the US.

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How Russian-Europe Relations Deteriorated Due To The Recent Events In Ukraine. (2019, April 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from
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