This paper is an analysis of the energy relations between the EU and Russia from the point of view of dependency theory, defined here as an element of functionalist social relations. The basic thesis is that the EU is operating with Russia in bad faith, with the primary goal of using their superior economic position to control Russian politics in order to ensure cheap oil and gas for themselves. This paper will seek to outline and understand both the theoretical and practical issues underscoring the relations between Russia and the European Union (EU) in recent times.
The basic thesis of ths paper is that the European Union seeks little more than a weak, compliant Russia that can be bent to its will. The new Russia, that is, the strong, economically powerful Russia rebuilt by President Putin in the early 2000s is a threat to most members of the EU, and that the reaction of the EU to this threat has been to seek to threaten and cajole her into compliance with EU standards, standards that are considered to be inviolable and utterly superior to any other, but especially the Russian.
Hence, the basic approach will be that of dependence. This paper will be divided into two parts: the first, the basic theoretical construction of EU-Russian relations found in the basic founding documents in recent times that sought to govern these relations. These are important for they form the problematic of these relations, but also important largely because Russia has viewed these with some suspicion as of late, and the current Russian president Dimitri Medvedev has sought to overturn these, or at least to reinterpret them.
Secondly, this paper will review some basic, recent pieces, including speeches from the relevant politicians, seeking to understand these relations, the promise and the current severe strains in relations between the two powers. Ultimately, this paper will conclude, Russia can no longer be treated as a threat, or as a child, the two basic approaches the EU has taken to Russian affairs. I. The Basic Framework Russia is the 3rd largest trading partner of the EU. But its relationship can only be considered one of dependence.
Basically, this is because the Russians export oil, gas and raw materials, but import finished goods and machinery (ECom, 2008a). This means that the only reason that Russian has a positive balance of trade (in fact, runs a substantial surplus both in trade and in budget) is that oil price spike over recent years. But this spike masks the basic dependency of the relations here. The EU, much larger and politically powerful both in population and in GDP, seems to have the upper hand in all relations, and they have sought to use this power as a means of controlling Russian politics and economics.
The basic structure of relations between the EU and Russia are a distorted form of functionalism, but this is the nature of dependence in the first place. The EU requires cheap energy, this in turn, requires a pliant Russia, this in turn, requires European interference in Russian politics to the extent that the EU would never permit the reverse. But European economic dominance is a function of cheap energy and protecting its supplies. As Russia is the world’s second dominant oil and gas power (almost equal to Saudi Arabia), then, functionalism would rightly predict a condition of dependence, i.
e. that the EU would seek to subvert strong Russian figures such as Putin in the interests of having greater control over Russian affairs. If functionalism holds that human societies (in this case, relations between societies) to be made up of interdependent parts, then one of the more important parts to a strong EU economy is cheap oil. Hence, in this paper, dependency is the result of functionalist relations. Dependency, the condition of a weak power being exploited by a stronger one for the latter’s gain, naturally flows from the functionalist paradigm.
It is, at any rate, the easiest way to understand these relations, the one that uses the fewest variables. Before the main body of the paper begins, however, the theoretic basis of the paper needs to be laid out, as the data used in the paper itself draws directly from it and cannot be understood without it. Essentially, the approach of this paper is based on a functionalist premise, but a functionalism that does not contain an equilibrium of itself: the relations between Russia and the EU are based on an asymmetry on relations that distorts the ways and means whereby these powers interact.
In short, the distortions introduced by asymmetry is the formal definition of “dependence” as this paper sees it. In the (1967) paper by Fred Dallmayr, he holds that functional relationships that are based on asymmetry contain the seeds of their own dissolution. While inequality is certainly possible in a functional system, it makes the system unstable. The nature of a functional system that is based on inequality is the very nature of dependency, another world for exploitation.
In fact, this is the theoretical thesis of this paper: that the Russian Federation and the EU operate in a functional relationship, that is, each needs the other for important economic ends, but, given that the EU is so much larger than the Russian Federation in terms of both population and GDP, the relationship is inherently unbalanced. IN order to cover over this institutionalized inequity, the EU usually resorts to “moral” arguments to stigmatize Russia, calling Putin “authoritarian,” etc.
These are rhetorical devices that serve to cover over the inherently unjust relations between the weaker partner and the stronger. More specifically, the work of Michaels et al (1976) add some empirical data to the above. One sees a relationship of dependence, speaking formally, a functional relationship based around inequality. Relations between dependent and dominant powers are unstable and distorted, and the dependent power will seek to use any and all weapons at its disposal to rectify the inherent imbalance.
In the Russian case, these are control over gas and oil supplies, pleas for equal treatment in public affairs, playing a divide and conquer game with major EU partners such as Germany, alliances with China, Iran and India, and, most of all, the extension of state power over strategic natural resources such as oil. It is this latter that has led to cries of “authoritarianism” from major media outlets in the west. While the Michael’s paper is not specifically about Russia, it concerns the nature of economic exchange between two unequal powers, they could be individuals, corporations, states or blocs.
Hence, it concerns dependency and assists the student to see more clearly the nature of the relationship between Russia (the dependent partner) and the EU (the dominant partner). The conclusions of Michaels et al are the following: 1. This exchange, regardless of the nature of the inequality, will continue so long as there is a basic sense of mutual profitability. In other words, regardless of the complaints from the Russian side against the “moral” argumentation of the EU (which is generally weak and self-interested), the latter is a major buyer of Russian oil and natural gas.
This is a huge part of the Russian economy, as of late in excellent shape, and hence, regardless of the inequality built into the system, this model will predict that there will be no major disruption of oil and gas to the EU, regardless of the rhetorical battles. 2. A conceptual division is necessary, and that distinction is between the terms “imbalance,” and “inequity. ” The former is institutional, and forms the basic structure of this paper. An imbalance is when two unequal partners attempt an exchange. The results of the exchange itself may or may not reach a level of inequity.
Thus, inequity is the result of the exchange, when one partner benefits more than the other. These are two freely floating variables. In the Russia-EU case, the situation is that there is a structural imbalance, but this, in itself, does not necessarily mean that there will be a consequent imbalance (inequity). In other words, if Russia plays her cards right, she can benefit more from EU relations than her institutional position in the world economy might suggest. The “weapons” mentioned above can be the gateway to that.
But as a result of this possibility, EU policymakers in their various treaties and contracts with Russia, have stressed the “right” of EU firms to own and be a part of oil extraction on Russian territory. Russia has signed these agreements, but, in following her self-interest, she has little intent to follow though on them. To permit EU firms a substantial stake in Russian oil is rightly seen as a violation of her economic sovereignty and national security. Nevertheless, Russia needs to be perceived as “playing ball” with the EU in order to enjoy her market.
3. Finally, the Michael’s paper holds that the more dependent subjects give more and more often than the less dependent subjects. This seems to be a truism, but the variable distinction in #2 militates against that. On paper, Russia has seemed to be making all the concessions. The EU being the dominant partner, speaks regularly about “Russian integration into Europe,” but the dominant partner can talk that way. There is no talk about Europe being integrated within Russia. The dependent partner has no basis to speak like that.
Thus, Russia must play a double game in order to make up for their dependant position: the immense number and size of the oil and gas deposits in Russia make this a possibility. Russian diplomacy with China, Iran, India and Germany has also shown great promise and is engaged in as a compensation for Russia’s weaker position relative to the EU. Needless to say, and kind of dependence/functionalism would predict that the EU would then retaliate, at least in the rhetorical approaches common to the elite western press: condemnation of Putin, associating with “rogue states” (rogue from what?), violating agreements, bad faith, etc.
All of which are the stock in trade of western journalistic treatments of Russian politics. But regardless of this, conclusion #1 above predicts that this rhetorical set of attacks is just that: rhetoric. Since the EU benefits from Russian oil and natural gas and can bypass the traditional Middle Eastern sources of oil, the EU’s rhetoric will never be matched by action. At the same time, #1 above predicts that Russia will complain and make counter-alliances, but is in no position to “cut off” supplies or raise prices beyond market allowances.