Of Lords, Reports and Russia

Five months of hearings, questions, analysis, reflection and arduous debate are over. At the end of it, this morning, this: the Report of an Inquiry by the House of Lords into EU-Russian relations, to which I had the privilege and hono(u)r to serve as specialist adviser.

The crafting of a parliamentary report is a political process. There is debate over what evidence to take, how to interpret it, how to structure the report and how to emphasize the conclusions. And that is the point: no thought, no intuition, no implication goes unchallenged. It is the polar opposite of a piece of academic analysis; had I been asked to write the report myself, I would undoubtedly have done it differently. But the report is nonetheless robust and bears a careful reading.

Most of the media coverage thus far (see the BBC and the Guardian, for example) has focused on the idea that the UK and Europe more generally ‘sleep walked’ into the conflict, let down by a lack of understanding and analysis of the fragility of Yanukovych’s government, the depth of Putin’s resolve, and a whole host of other issues. That’s fine as a headline, but it’s not what I take as the key conclusion of the report.

The report’s key conclusion, I think, is this:

In the shared neighbourhood, the EU and Member States face a strategic question of whether Europe can be secure and prosperous if Russia continues to be governed as it is today. Whatever the present Russian government’s real intentions may be, Russia’s internal governance and its resulting threat perceptions create geopolitical competition in the neighbourhood. The EU’s capacity to influence the internal politics of Russia is limited, and Member States have not demonstrated an appetite to make the attempt. Therefore, if influencing Russia’s future governance is not on the agenda, Member States instead need to devise a robust and proactive policy to manage competition with Russia in the shared neighbourhood.

The fact that Europe has a ‘Russia problem’ rather than simply a ‘Ukraine crisis’ is one I and others have written about before, but it has been slow to filter into the policy debate. This Report, I think, is the first in-depth attempt by policymakers to come to grips with it. That, surely, is a step in the right direction.

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