Autor - European Values


Summary: Cyprus is seen is an EU country which has a very close relationship with Russia. The Cypriot government was a firm opponent of sanctions against Russia, fearing the outflow of Russian capital from the island. However, Cyprus had to yield to the dominant position in the EU on Russia. Cyprus is less concerned with the crisis in Ukraine and more focused on solving its own territorial and political issues. Russia has supported integrity of the island since the Soviet era, making Moscow a key foreign partner to Nicosia. Russian intelligence’s activity in Cyprus continues, allegedly with the Cypriot government’s support. However, in terms of energy, Cyprus is less dependent on Russia and reserves its role as an offshore for Russian finance.

I. Relationship Parameters

National issue: Cypriot bilateral relations with Russia are primarily driven by the Cyprus problem. Moscow has been a staunch supporter of Nicosia and used its veto power to block a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning the Cypriot government for rejecting the Annan peace plan in April 2004. However, as Cyprus is inching closer to a final settlement, there are worries over Russia’s role. A peace deal would ease tensions between the European Union and Turkey, give Turkey a new source of natural gas imports, and hand Brussels a diplomatic success story, none of which is in Russia’s interests. The fear on the Greek and Cypriot side is that Moscow is using social and mass media, as well as ties to fringe nationalist political parties and the Greek Orthodox Church, to undermine the settlement talks.[1]

Offshore status: Cyprus is Russia’s primary offshore banking haven, home to 40.000 Russians, and a popular destination for Russian tourists. The relationship is supported by an extremely favourable Double Taxation Treaty between Cyprus and Russia. According to recent data, there are between 30–150 thousand companies of Russian origin registered in Cyprus, with Russia providing up to 10% of Cyprus’ GDP and Cyprus ranked as one of the top investors in Russia.[2] A 2013 Global Financial Integrity report went as far as saying Cyprus became “a major money-laundering machine for Russian criminals.”[3]

Bailouts: Russia offered Cyprus a 2.5 billion bailout loan in 2011. However, it did not prevent Cypriot banking system coming under severe strain in the wake of the Greek crisis and briefly shutting down in March 2013. A bailout package negotiated by the EU Commission and the IMF involved a levy on bank accounts and deposits, including those from Russia, briefly souring the relationship.[4] However, Russian capital returned as soon as Cypriot banking system rebounded.[5]

Energy: Cyprus has a chance to become an important regional energy player after the discovery of the Aphrodite natural gas field off the island’s coast and after the signing of the Energy Triangle agreement with Israel and Greece for joint extraction with the neighbouring Leviathan and Tamar fields. The parties plan to build a pipeline and liquefied natural gas plant by 2019, with implications for European energy independence. Russian companies competed for a stake in exploration and extraction, so far unsuccessfully.

Position on sanctions: The foreign minister of Cyprus, Ioannis Kasoulides, declared in an interview to Die Welt that Russia and Cyprus were so tightly economically intertwined that the sanctions “will destroy” the island’s economy faster than they will affect Russia.[6] The sanctions did affect trade (mainly fruit exports), but the impact was limited (measured at €13 million, compared to billions in financial flows). Cyprus’ economy was more affected by the falling energy prices and currency crisis which left Russians with less money to spend, as well as by the Kremlin’s “de-offshorization” efforts. Nonetheless, in 2016, Cyprus’ parliament adopted a resolution calling for lifting the EU sanctions on Russia.

Military cooperation: Russia and Cyprus signed an agreement on military and technical cooperation in 1996, followed by several arms procurement deals.[7] Cyprus was the only EU member state to maintain military cooperation with Russia after the Ukraine crisis. In 2015, a new agreement gave the Russian Navy regular access to Cyprus’ Mediterranean ports (mainly for international anti-terrorism and piracy efforts) and permitted Russian Air Force to use the Papandreou air base (for humanitarian missions).[8] There was also a rumoured negotiation to set up a permanent Russian military base on the island. This caused tensions with the UK, which has two bases in Cyprus used for NATO operations, and the rumours were eventually dispelled by the government.[9] Cyprus has also been criticized for allowing Russian spies and weapon smugglers escape through its territory.[10]

View of Russia: According to the latest Eurobarometer, 76% of Cypriots had a positive view of Russia. Most political parties and the powerful Orthodox Church openly declare their affinity with Russia.

II. Expert Assessment

Power Audit (2007): Trojan Horse. Within the European Union, Cyprus has opposed proposals for energy unbundling and blocked proposals for increasing European involvement in the post-Soviet space. For example, in February 2006, Cyprus joined up with eight other member states to oppose a possible contribution to a peace support operation in Moldova. Greece and Cyprus often take the lead in defending Russia’s position on issues such as energy or the Eastern neighbourhood (allowing other EU member states to hide behind them), but they are careful not to become isolated inside the EU.

National Perspectives (2013): Cyprus, with its new-found political weight and status within the EU, has sought to establish bilateral relations with powerful states such as China and Russia in order to intensify their involvement and ensure their continuing and unequivocal support for a solution of the Cyprus problem. Indeed, whilst Russia has always been a strong supporter of Cypriot efforts through the UN to resolve the conflict on the island, it has also in the past sought to manipulate Cypriot non-membership of NATO in order to pursue policies that divided and fostered conflict between NATO members.

EU-28 Watch (2015): Russia is one of the closest political and economic partners for Cyprus and there is no evidence or inclination for that to change in the near future. During the tensions following the Ukrainian crisis, Cyprus had to maintain a balanced position between its support of the EU’s course of action and its desire to perpetuate its good bilateral relations with Russia. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cyprus had to concede to the sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia following the Ukrainian crisis even at its own financial and potentially political cost. The administration’s position is that the sanctions should not be used and aimed as ends in themselves, and that, in fact, the political and economic repercussions may have been disproportionally costly to EU member states rather than Russia as the primary target of the sanctions.

III. Policy Documents

Foreign policy objectives[11]

Cyprus maintains very good relations with a considerable number of countries and the objective of its foreign policy is to have an active involvement in processes that aim to promote international co-operation, peace, stability, and sustainable development. Cyprus has always been a dedicated supporter of human rights, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, and a strong advocate of international peace and security. Its geographic position enables it to play a role both in the Eastern Mediterranean region and within the European family. Its accession to the European Union initiated new era in its relations with third countries, thus becoming a bridge of communication between the European Union and these countries.

Bilateral relations with Russia[12] 

The friendly character of the bilateral relations is reflected in the same or similar position of the two states in important international issues, as well as in the consistent and valuable support of Russia in the efforts to find a just, viable and comprehensive solution of the Cyprus Question on the basis of the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. With Cyprus’ entry into the European Union on May 1st 2004, another dimension was added to Cyprus-Russia relations since the EU is a strategic partner of Russia. The trade and economic ties between Cyprus and Russia are on a satisfactory level. A large number of Russian entrepreneurs use Cyprus as their base for their business and investment activities. Cyprus imports from Russia mainly oil as well as iron, other metals, timber, etc. Cypriot exports to Russia include mainly agricultural products, foodstuff and pharmaceuticals. A significant number of Russian tourists also visit Cyprus every year.

Foreign Minister’s statements after meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov (2016)[13]

The high level meetings between the members of Governments of Cyprus and Russia attest to the excellent level of the bilateral relations, which, in my view, are considered to be historic and traditional and have survived over 55 years. Cyprus has its own existential problem with the invasion and the occupation of 37% of the island by Turkey, and we have never ceased to express our gratitude to a consistent and principled policy played by Russia, as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. We discussed our upcoming Presidency of the Council of Europe. Our theme is democratic security in Europe, particularly related to application of human rights in democracy and the rule of law, protection of minorities, and other matters of interest. We approach the presidency in a neutral and professional way, but we believe that all members of the CoE should work in order for this organization to maintain a certain standard. We are amongst those who believe that peace and stability in the European continent are possible if the EU and Russia maintain strategic relations, and that the dialogue should be always open, so that any problems that may arise can be resolved by diplomatic and political means. On Ukraine, for us, the only game in town is the Minsk Agreement, which has to be respected by all signatories and those who have undertaken to be guarantors of the Minsk Agreement. We want this to be implemented as soon as possible for the sake of peace and cooperation between Russia and the EU.








[6] Servettaz, Elena. “A Sanctions Primer: What Happens to the Targeted?” World Affairs, vol. 177, no. 2, 2014.









Summary: Croatia is the most recent EU member state and the second ex-Yugoslav country to join both the EU and NATO. Croatia’s relationship with Russia has been cold ever since the country’s independence from Belgrade, with visible exceptions in the energy sector. Croatia has been a firm supporter of the EU sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea, and remains close to the common EU position in the condemnation of Russian actions in Syria.

I. Relationship Parameters

History: Since declaring independence in 1991, Croatia has had a positive, but somewhat wary relationship with Russia. Optimism came from the business side, while the source of wariness is Russia’s strong involvement in Serbia, Croatia’s rival against whom it fought in the armed conflict of 1991-1995. Recently, the tensions in the Balkans have been running high, fuelled by talk of secession in Bosnia’s Serb-majority Republika Srpska (potentially backed by Russia), a series of diplomatic incidents, and an outright arms race between Croatia and Serbia. Croatian defence ministry said it would like to buy US artillery systems, while Serbia showed interest in Russian military planes and missile defence systems.[1] Croatia has also expressed concern about Russia’s frequent joint military exercises with Serbia.[2]

Energy: Croatia produces 60-65% of the natural gas it consumes and imports the rest from Russia. The country has been interested in becoming a regional energy hub and exporter. It currently has projects underway aimed to increase production (from recently discovered new gas and oil fields), build an LNG terminal on the island of Krk, and develop its pipeline network (to link with the proposed Southern and North-South Gas Corridors that would greatly increase energy independence of states in Central and South Eastern Europe). Gazprom sought to control the developments, competing for a stake in exploration of Croatia’s offshore reserves, seeking to buy shares in the state’s energy company, attempting to repurpose the LNG terminal project as a hub for Russian gas, and looking to undermine the EU’s search for alternative suppliers through proposed South Stream (gas) and Druzhba-Adria (oil) pipelines. So far, these efforts have been unsuccessful, and, despite delays, Croatia is moving in the direction of becoming a source of alternatives to the Russian gas for the whole CEE-SEE region.

Trade: Russian market is important (but not crucial) for Croatian pharmaceutical, food, construction, and engineering industries. Bilateral trade volumes fell in 2015, but the drop-off was mostly explained by declining energy prices and devaluation of the ruble. Croatian high officials attended a trade and investment forum in Moscow a day after the EU broadened sanctions due to the escalating violence in Ukraine.[3] However, Russia cancelled a similar forum in 2016 because, according to the Russian ambassador in Zagreb, “Russian entrepreneurs are very patriotic and disagree with the European sanctions regime.”[4]

European orientation: Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and the EU in 2013. After the EU introduced sanctions against Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, Croatian Ambassador to Moscow declared that, as a member state, Croatia shares the EU principles and does not recognize the annexation of Crimea: “As long as the EU maintains this position on Crimea, Croatia as a member state will share it”. Croatian politicians held that, if the situation in Eastern Ukraine stabilizes and implementation of Minsk accords gets underway, sanctions can be softened, while further escalation would justify new sanctions. At the same time, Croatian president and foreign minister advocated working with Russia on other issues, such as the crisis in Syria, and furthering cooperation in areas not affected by sanctions.[5]

Normative issues: With its own experience of occupation and war fresh in memory, Croatia reacted to the conflict in Ukraine by stepping up military-technical cooperation, vowing to continue “political and practical support to Ukraine on its EU path”, and offering to share experience of peaceful reintegration of occupied territories.[6] Russian Foreign Ministry reacted sharply, saying Croatia should instead “tackle its own deep-rooted problems” concerning the rights of Serbs and other ethnic minorities.[7] Russia also protested as eight Croatian citizens were reported to fight on the side of Ukraine, and accused Croatia of aggressive nationalism and forcing Orthodox believers to convert to Catholicism.[8]

View of Russia: According to the latest Eurobarometer, 49% of Croatians had a positive view of Russia.

II. Expert Assessment

EU-28 Watch (2015): Since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, political relations between Croatia and Russia have grown more aloof. Aggressive Russian politics in its neighbourhood and the strengthening of its authoritarian rule at home only increased distrust. Croatia, as a member of the EU and NATO, criticized the annexation of Crimea and joined sanctions against Russia. Yet, at the same time, there were attempts to strengthen economic relations.[9]

Abducting Europe: Russians have multiple interests in Croatia, from buying properties on the Adriatic coast, to blocking the EU’s energy projects. Zagreb views Russia with apprehension, but does not want to quarrel. Croatia has chosen a careful line in relations with the Kremlin: to maintain the EU sanctions, but at the same time, attempt to increase the presence of their companies on the Russian market.[10]

European Foreign Policy Scorecards: Slacker on relations with Russia on Energy Issues (2014).

III. Policy Documents

Croatian Foreign Minister’s Strategic Plan (2016-2018)[11] / Foreign Policy Aims[12]

Croatia wants to develop bilateral economic and political relations with [the US and] the rest of the big countries, namely Russia and China, which Croatia traditionally has friendly relations with.

Activity Report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011)[13]

In relations with the countries of the Eurasian area, especially with the Russian Federation, economic cooperation remains a priority, as evidenced by a series of bilateral economic and business contacts. Relations with the Russian Federation were marked by the resumption of talks on increasing business cooperation, with an emphasis on energy, a sector of strategic importance to overall relations. Croatia has continued to strengthen and enrich relationships with the countries of the Eastern Partnership in view of confirmed mutual interest, with an emphasis on the Euro-integration process.

Statements by the Foreign Minister (2015-2016)[14]

Latest statements by foreign ministers Vesna Pusić (from December 2011 to January 2016) and Miro Kovač (from January 2016 to October 2016) also focused on the importance of economic and trade relations. Pusić was in favour of gradual phasing out of sanctions against Russia, while Kovač stated Croatia will support sanctions against Russia as long as parts of Ukraine remain occupied.

Public Report of the Croatian Security-Intelligence Agency (2015)[15]        

The Ukrainian crisis, which resulted in the Russian annexation of the Crimea and armed conflict between the Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian insurgents in the Donbas region, caused the most severe deterioration of relations between Russia and the West since the time of the so-called Cold War, including a particular form of war through economic sanctions. Economic and financial conditions in the Ukraine have deteriorated, and Russia is registering a decrease in investments and economic growth; at the same time, EU member countries, particularly companies working on the Russian market, some of them Croatian, have been affected by the sanctions regime.

The Ukrainian conflict illustrated the importance of energy security, and emphasised the fact that energy sources (gas), aside from contributing to competitiveness of national economies, are also a valuable foreign policy tool. Accordingly, Russia is using gas to realize its foreign policy objectives. In spite of the Ukrainian-Russian-European agreement on the repayment of the Ukrainian debt, there is still a possibility that gas supply to the Ukraine might be discontinued. Therefore, European countries are attempting to find alternative sources so that energy security is not endangered.

The announcement that the planned gas pipeline South Stream will not be built was a blow to some of the SE European countries, as they consider the energy sector an important initiator of economic recovery. This primarily relates to the states which are dependent on Russian gas. Their reactions show that dependence on Russian gas substantially contributes (along with political, cultural, religious and even military connections) to an inclinations toward Russian views (for example in regard to the conflict in the Ukraine).



















Summary: Bulgaria is a new EU and NATO member, with deep historical and cultural ties to Russia. Bulgaria is highly dependent on Russian fossil fuels, but so far the Bulgarian government remained dedicated in following EU guidelines and rejected several Russian pipeline projects. Though not explicitly pro-Russian, the political mainstream in Bulgaria tries to reconcile a firm pro-EU and pro-NATO stance with maintaining friendly relations with Russia. Bulgaria sees sanctions as an obstacle for its own economy, but in the past few years it became more aware of threats posed by Russia to the rest of Europe.

I. Relationship Parameters

History: Bulgaria has over 130 years of diplomatic relations with Russia, which is credited as the force behind Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman rule. In 1945, the ‘swallowing’ of Bulgaria by the Soviet sphere of influence met little opposition from the West or from within. Shared Slavic heritage with Russia, a linguistic, cultural, religious and historic affinity encouraged Bulgaria’s close approximation with the former Soviet Union. It became known as the most faithful Soviet ally within the socialist bloc, leaving the state with scarce civic and political opposition or reflection on the Soviet occupation.[1]

Joining the EU and NATO: Foreign policy reorientation was motivated by the attractiveness of the Euro-Atlantic model and the “profound weakness” of Yeltsin’s Russia. Accession to NATO and the EU led to calls for a measured, pragmatic approach in Bulgaria-Russia bilateral relations and the pursuit of a level-playing field in energy and trade negotiations, especially in light of Bulgaria’s dependencies on the Russian Federation. Bulgaria has also tried to position itself as a strategic bridge between East and West on matters of energy, security, conflict mitigation and resolution in the EU’s neighbourhood.[2]

Energy: Bulgaria is dependent on Russia for 90% of its natural gas consumption and three-quarters of its primary energy resources.[3] Dependency is exacerbated by the infrastructure of Soviet design and restrictive long-term energy transmission contracts. This has caused problems: in 2006, Bulgaria was forced to renegotiate its supply contract with Gazprom earlier and on less favourable terms, and in 2009, its gas supply was cut off in the Russia-Ukraine dispute. Russia sought to solidify control through projects such as the proposed South Stream gas pipeline, Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, and nuclear power plant at Belene. While initially cooperative, Bulgarian government eventually rejected all three projects (citing the EU’s Third Energy Package, environmental regulations and lack of interest from investors), leading to tensions in the bilateral relationship. In 2016, Bulgaria made progress towards liberalizing its electricity market[4], building an LNG terminal in Greece[5], interconnecting gas pipelines with neighbours and the Southern Corridor, creating a regional gas hub at Varna and eventual energy independence.[6]

Trade: In a liberalized Russian market, Bulgarian products became non-competitive and their market share dropped. Throughout the past decade, Bulgaria relied on Russia for 14% of its imports (mainly energy), while only some 2-3% of its exports went to Russia. Development of bilateral trade was much talked about but hindered by conflicts over energy projects and the EU sanctions against Russia.

Sanctions: Views diverge among Bulgaria’s politicians. “A high-ranking Bulgarian Foreign Ministry official recently stated they are not only in favour of the continuation of economic sanctions against Russia, but also support the idea of extending the duration of sanctions from six months to one year. There is no reason to have this discussion so often, when apparently nothing changes from the Russian side.”[7] Newly elected president Rumen Radev proposed for sanctions to be dropped, but he doesn’t have strong party support, and the decision in summer 2017 will be up to Bulgaria’s next prime minister.[8]

Elections: In Western media, it was widely reported that a “pro-Russian candidate won the elections in Bulgaria”. Local observers noted the campaign was polarizing, the debate on Russia particularly heated,[9] propaganda and conspiracy theories rampant.[10] However, the election result was not all geopolitics: “Mr. Radev’s triumph reflected widespread discontent with the government’s poor record on tackling corruption and poverty”.[11] Some observers believe Radev will not bring about radical change. “Will Radev turn Bulgaria toward Russia? Yes and no. The rhetoric will change, as President Plevneliev was a harsh critic of the Kremlin who wouldn’t be out of place in Tallinn or Warsaw. However, the substance will not. Having won, Radev, an alumnus of the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama, is sure to play his Western credentials. His message will be that Bulgaria can be a loyal partner in the EU and NATO while reaching out to Russia. That is not very different from the position advocated by Borisov”.[12]

View of Russia: According to the latest Eurobarometer, 72% of Bulgarians had a positive view of Russia. Another poll finds that Bulgarians “do not believe that Russia can be a model for development and provide more credible guarantees for prosperity and security than the membership in the EU and NATO.”[13]

II. Expert Assessment

Power Audit (2007): Friendly pragmatist. Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov once claimed that: “Bulgaria is in a good position to become our special partner, a sort of a Trojan horse in the EU.” Indeed, Bulgaria has an increasingly important economic relationship with Russia and has been close to Russia on issues like the energy policy. On the other hand, Bulgaria has been a target of Russian energy pressure and supported a stronger political role for the EU in the Eastern neighbourhood.

National Perspectives (2013): History and geography mean Bulgaria can be a positive mediating influence [in the EU-Russia relationship], but its dependence on Russia for energy and failure to diversify to mitigate its worst effects mean that [Europeanization of] Bulgaria cannot necessarily be considered permanent. EU membership had failed to anchor the drive for reform, raising doubt over the direction and continuity of Bulgarian foreign policy. Without strategic direction and clear priorities on issues like security and energy, the Bulgarian state could face populist revolts. And that instability could undo the ties between the EU and Bulgaria, prompting a shift toward Russian political and economic interests.

European Foreign Policy Scorecards: Bulgaria was leader on diversifying gas supplies away from Russia in 2015 after being a slacker on relations with Russia on energy issues in 2014.

III. Policy Documents

Bulgarian Foreign Policy[14]          

Bulgaria is keen on continuing to maintain stable, friendly and predictable relations with Russia. Bulgaria aims at more active trade and economic relations, and an increased presence of Bulgarian business on the Russian market; it strives to assist the enhancement of the EU-Russia cooperation with a view to consolidating energy security on the continent.

Foreign Minister’s interview on Bulgaria-Russia relations (2015)[15]

Bulgaria seeks to develop good relations with any country that is respectful to our values and political priorities, including our membership in the EU and NATO. Regardless of the existing disagreements caused by the conflict in Ukraine, we believe relationship with Russia is crucial for the Black Sea region and Eastern Europe. Our priorities are cooperation on economy, education, science, culture, social policy, tourism. Our policy is pragmatic, but the defense of national interests should be based on the principles of respect for international law and the sovereignty of each country. That determines the position of Bulgaria and other countries of the EU towards Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine.

Main Activities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Jun 2013-Aug 2014)[16]

With regard to the events in Ukraine, the main objective was to protect Bulgaria from negative consequences and to reduce the negative effect of sanctions on the Bulgarian economy and business. Bulgaria and Russia marked 135th anniversary of establishment of bilateral relations with a series of meetings and events. Bulgarian foreign minister visited Kiev and Odessa and expressed support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, as well as for the government efforts to return the country on the path of European integration. The two countries signed a Memorandum of Cooperation in the field of European integration and in the framework of NATO-Ukraine Commission. Bulgaria also supported NATO’s open door policy and measures to ensure the security of its Eastern allies, including military exercises in the Black sea and co-funding strategic infrastructure for the new members.

National Security Strategy (2011-2020)[17]

Bulgaria takes an active part in the shaping and implementation of the EU and NATO relations with the Russian Federation. It supports a comprehensive approach to security and cooperation that respects the objectives, principles and values of the UN, NATO, the EU, Council of Europe and the OSCE.

Yearly report on the state of national security (2015)[18]

Security threats: annexation of Crimea and destabilization of East Ukraine; risk of appearance of new and escalation of existing (frozen) conflicts; intensive attempts by Russia to restore and expand spheres of influence through military, economic and cultural means, including pressure on other states’ foreign policy; increase and modernization of Russian military capabilities and access to the Black Sea, including control of energy reserves, in breach of geostrategic and military balance in the Black Sea region; hybrid war: attempts of foreign countries to influence public opinion through disinformation, propaganda campaigns, media manipulation, use of social networks and populist parties; energy dependency.



[1] Bozhilova, D., Bulgaria, Chapter 12 in M. David, J. Gower and H. Haukkala, ‘National Perspectives on Russia: European Foreign Policy in the Making?’, Routledge 2013.

[2] Bozhilova, D., Bulgaria, in National Perspectives on Russia.


















Summary: Belgium is a highly important EU and NATO member state, hosting EU and NATO institutional centers. Though traditionally a pragmatist in relations with Russia, Belgium is growing more aware of the threat Russia poses to the European Union. The conflict in Ukraine made Belgium more eager to support Kyiv in the EU context and back the measures to counter Russian aggression. However, being far away from the Russian border and in the middle of internal political difficulties, as well as being a target of terrorism, makes Belgium less concerned with Russia as a security threat. Still, Belgium does not deny that such threats coming from Russia exist, and it shows a particular concern with Russian intelligence activity in the country.

I. Relationship Parameters

Distance: Belgium is located at a relative distance from Russia, so there are no direct border or neighbourhood issues. Security relations are still influenced by certain images and stereotypes of the Cold War, leading to perceptions of Russia being ‘different’.[1]

Energy: Belgium imports around 8 per of its gas from Russia. It once sought to become a storage and distribution hub for Gazprom in Western Europe[2] but lost out to a site in the Netherlands.[3] Belgium has been a vocal supporter of the EU’s Third Energy Package ever since.[4]

Trade: Belgium is a small export-oriented economy, and thus pursuing business opportunities is always a priority on its bilateral agenda. It has important economic relations with Russia, but no dependence. Belgium was thought to be one of five EU countries to experience net losses in exports due to sanctions imposed on Russia.[5] Russia’s food import ban hit Belgian fruit and vegetable sector particularly hard.

Secret services activity: Belgium hosts international institutions such as the EU and NATO, which Russia considers an important element of the bilateral relationship that separates Belgium from other small EU member states.[6] It also makes Brussels the target of intelligence activities. The Belgian state security service regularly reports Russian “interest” in Euro-Atlantic defence policy, EU political decisions, EU economic policy, and the Russian-speaking community in Belgium.[7] Spy scandals are not rare.[8]

European policy orientation: As a founding member of the European Coal and Steel Community and NATO, Belgium has traditionally pursued a pro-integrationist policy as the best guarantee to defend the interests of a small country. It is a proponent of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and a common energy policy. However, lack of common views among the member states in certain areas (including relations with Russia) has led to a pragmatic shift towards ‘proactive bilateralism’. On EU-Russia policy, Belgium consults with the Baltic states, the Visegrad countries, Romania and Bulgaria, although there are strong divergences in terms of historic experience, interests and preferences.

Normative issues: Belgium has attempted to emphasize ‘ethical’ issues in its foreign policy, but its credibility (e.g. on good governance) has been compromised by internal political crises. Pragmatic interests often prevail, while “normative or pro-integrationist arguments (…) are only used when they (…) pose no threat to the national interest”, and more sensitive political issues are left to the EU.[9]

View of Russia: According to the latest Eurobarometer, 26% of Belgians had a positive view of Russia.

II. Expert Assessment

Power Audit (2007): Friendly pragmatist. Belgium has a rather limited agenda for cooperation with Russia – Russia is not its foreign policy priority. Belgium sought gas deals with Russia and was willing to become a gas distribution hub for Gazprom.

National Perspectives (2013): [In] security relations (…) there is no sense of imminent threat on either side.
The Benelux countries all have a pragmatic attitude towards Russia. They share the expectation that the best strategy to follow is stepwise constructive engagement or interlacing with Russia in different fields: business, culture, defence, technology, space programme. Relations with Russia are labelled as excellent. Key foreign policy documents refer to the fact that the Russia policy is situated within the EU’s policy, but in practice … it depends on the business interest at stake. First order issues, i.e. issues related to national interests and security are by preference dealt with bilaterally, while the responsibility for second order issues, i.e. ethical concerns, is left to the EU.

European Foreign Policy Scorecards: Leader on supporting free press in Russia (2015).

III. Policy Documents

Speech by Minister Reynders on the priorities of the Belgian diplomacy (2015)[10]

The situation in Ukraine reminds us of the fragility of the (…) fundamental values such as protection of the Human Rights, the Rule of Law, the freedom of expression and opinion, the territorial integrity (…) and the need to reaffirm our strong commitment to protect them. (…) We want Russia to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. We will keep insisting on this essential principle. On the other hand, Russia remains an important partner and we think it is important to keep the dialogue open. In the longer run we should review the relationship between the EU and Russia independently from the present sanctions and visit together questions like human rights, trade relations, energy cooperation, and so on. In this respect, a coordination between the different European institutions (OSCE, EU, Council of Europe) is very needed. We need to speak with one (firm) voice if we want to succeed.

Activity Reports of the Public Federal Service on Foreign Affairs[11]         

(2014) The developments in and around the Ukraine and, linked to this, relations with Russia and the Eastern neighbours of the EU, remained in the spotlight for the entire year. The embargo that was implemented by Russia on the import of agricultural products from the EU hit the Belgian fruit and vegetable sector particularly hard. (2015) The department (…) continued to focus attention on the crisis in Ukraine. Minister Reynders, who had made it one of the priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the Council of Europe 2014-2015, visited Ukraine with his Benelux colleagues. On that occasion, he called for the continuation of reforms and the implementation of the Minsk agreements, and reaffirmed Belgium’s support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Strategic Vision for Defense (2016)[12]    

Security situation on the Eastern periphery is “unprecedented since the end of the Cold War”, as Russian invasion in the East of Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, military and disinformation actions in Transnistria and Georgia confirm that Russia did not resign itself to the extension of NATO/EU sphere of influence. Yet this extension is only the reflection of the sovereign wish of the former Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Union countries. (…) Russia sees its status as a global power threatened by its economic and demographic situation… and aims to preserve it by investing in conventional and nuclear capabilities and by using political power. NATO collective defense and nuclear deterrence (…) and the vast toolbox of the EU (e.g. assistance to Ukraine) (…) are complementary in strengthening Eastern Europe against Russian interference. Russia is using a hybrid war approach to destabilize the Eastern European countries that are turning to the West to secure their future. Belgium as a NATO member is expected to actively contribute to security efforts in the region.

State Security Service (VSSE) Annual Report (2011)[13]         

Clandestine activities of intelligence officers under diplomatic cover and journalistic cover… remain at a high level. Investigations (…) led to the identification of several Russian intelligence officers who, for many years, operated in Belgium and / or abroad using falsified Belgian or other non-Russian identities, sometimes dating back to the 1960s. Several Belgian nationals were recruited and manipulated by the Russian (…) intelligence services. Political developments (electoral fraud, protests) in Russia and the region are closely monitored by the VSS, as they may have consequences for the Russian and Russian-speaking diaspora in Belgium, legitimacy of the future president and the bilateral relations.



[1] Casier, T, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, Chapter 8 in M. David, J. Gower and H. Haukkala, ‘National Perspectives on Russia: European Foreign Policy in the Making?’, Routledge 2013.

[2] https:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌program/‌‌belgium-gazproms-next-hub-in-europe/‌‌

[3] https:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌content/‌‌a60d0134-8dea-11de-93df-00144feabdc0

[4] Casier, T, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in National Perspectives on Russia.

[5] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌docu/‌‌review/‌‌2015/‌‌Russia/‌‌sanctions-after-crimea-have-they-worked/‌‌EN/‌‌index.htm

[6] Casier, T, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in National Perspectives on Russia.

[7] https:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌secret-ue/‌‌117564

[8] https:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌justice/‌‌117772, https:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌2015/‌‌03/‌‌154624

[9] Casier, T, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, in National Perspectives on Russia.

[10] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌en/‌‌Newsroom/‌‌news/‌‌press_‌‌releases/‌‌foreign_‌‌affairs/‌‌2015/‌‌01/‌‌ni_‌‌190115_‌‌speech_‌‌minister_‌‌reynders

[11] http:/‌/‌‌en/‌about_‌the_‌organisation/‌activity_‌report

[12] http:/‌/‌‌sites/‌default/‌files/‌articles/‌20160629-vision%20strat%C3%A9gique-D%C3%A9fense.pdf

[13] http:/‌/‌‌sites/‌default/‌files/‌downloads/‌VSSE_‌rapportannuel2011_‌FR_‌web.pdf


Summary: Austria is a non-NATO EU member state with a long tradition of neutrality throughout the Cold War. The country’s relations with Russia have not suffered significantly due to the events in Ukraine. Energy still shapes the two countries’ relationship and remains an important cornerstone in Austrian diplomacy with Russia. Therefore, Austria is sceptical towards the EU sanctions against Russia and is less concerned with the threats that other EU members see emanating from Russia. However, a large Chechen diaspora in Austria is seen as a potential national security threat and a product of Russia’s policy in the Northern Caucasus.

I. Relationship Parameters

History: Neutrality was key to Austria’s independence, demanded by the Soviet Union in exchange for the withdrawal of troops in 1955. During the Cold War, Austrian politicians tried to avoid any declarations and actions that could be interpreted by the Soviet Union as a violation of its neutral status, and at times pursued “active neutrality” or “a policy of opening and normalization” towards the Eastern bloc. The neutral status has “seeped into the Austrian identity, maintained even after the country joined the EU”.[1]

Energy: Russian gas has been supplied to Austria since 1968 and in 2012 constituted 63% of the country’s gas imports (supplying 14% of its total energy needs). Baumgarten gas hub is the entry point for nearly one third of Russian gas exports to Western Europe. Haidach gas storage, a joint project of Gazprom (66.7%), RAG (Austria) and WINGAS (Germany), secures Russian gas exports for consumers in Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Slovakia and Italy.[2] OMV is Gazprom’s main business partner in Austria, and the warm relationship has not been significantly affected by the events in Ukraine and the EU sanctions. In June 2014, they signed a deal for the Austrian section of the South Stream pipeline bypassing Ukraine.[3] The project was eventually cancelled under the EU pressure, but Baumgarten remains the potential destination of proposed alternative projects[4] (e.g. Tesla Pipeline[5]). On September 4, 2015, Gazprom, BASF, E.ON, ENGIE, OMV and Shell signed a shareholder agreement to construct the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline system from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea. The joint venture was blocked by Poland’s antimonopoly agency, concerned about its effect on competition in the Polish and EU gas markets. The EU companies withdrew but promised to “individually contemplate alternative ways to contribute” to the project, and Gazprom insists lines will be put in operation in 2019. In December 2016, OMV and Gazprom signed an agreement swapping upstream assets in Norway and Western Siberia,[6] a deal thought to favour the Austrian side and bind the two companies even closer.[7]

Migration: Austria is one of the popular destinations for asylum seekers in Europe. This has impacted relations with Russia since the Chechen wars, as Austria is home to 20000-25000 Chechen refugees.[8]

Secret service activity: Vienna is thought to be the base of operations for a large number of Russian security service agents (from several dozens[9] to several hundred[10], according to different estimations). “From time to time, the Austrian media report (…) on Russian secret service activities in Austria. The Austrian side is usually overly keen to restore everything to normality as soon as possible:  From its point of view, spy scandals must not spoil its ‘good and cordial relations’ with Moscow – and, especially, the natural gas supply”. Gert René Polli, the former chief of the Austria’s counter-terrorism agency, told the Telegraph “Vienna is a stock exchange of information. We have the most liberal laws governing spying activity in the world.”[11]

View of Russia: According to the latest Eurobarometer, 28% of Austrians had a positive view of Russia.

II. Expert Assessment

Power Audit (2007): Friendly Pragmatist. Austria has deep economic links with Moscow. It has signed long-term deals with Russia on gas supplies and storage, and plans to become a gas hub for Gazprom in the EU. Austria has also been known to speak up for Russian interests within the EU.

National Perspectives (2013): “The governments in Vienna and Moscow like to emphasize they are ‘very close’ in most of the issues of international politics, that there are very few differences between them, that their relations are ‘trouble-free,’ ‘cordial’ etc. The annual reports of the Austrian MFA are usually restrained and careful in their treatment of Russia. There is an obvious tendency in the statements of Austrian politicians, diplomats and businessmen to tell their Russian interlocutors just what they want to hear, in particular: that Austria will remain neutral; that Russia necessarily has to be a part of a new European security system or architecture; that Moscow’s interests, especially in the realm of security policy, must be respected (meaning by NATO and the USA); that Austria – like Russia – is in favour of a ‘multipolar world’, consisting of several equal great powers.  Austrian politicians find it difficult to say ‘no’ to Russia and/or to find critical words about its domestic, foreign, and security policy. Instead, it is a widespread argument that Russia is too important as a power – and especially as supplier of energy resources – so relations must not be spoiled under any circumstances.”[12]

Views from the capitals (2015): “Vienna was very sceptical of sectorial sanctions on Russia for fear of economic repercussions, and Austria was the first state after the annexation of Crimea to host Putin as an official guest (…) Austrian feeling towards Russia is a strange mix of fear and admiration for the fighting, underdog spirit. Being a young member of the EU and outside of NATO, Austrians have little trust in European solidarity and are not used to the idea of a common European approach to deter Russian aggression. Austrian behaviour reflects the habits of a small, isolated, and neutral country trying to get along in between rival political blocs. Moreover, Russia has not passed up the opportunity to meddle in Austrian domestic politics.”[13]

European Foreign Policy Scorecards: Slacker on diversifying gas supplies away from Russia (2015), relations with Russia on energy issues (2014).[14]

III. Policy Documents

Long-term priorities for Austrian European, Foreign and Integration Policy (2014)[15]

As demonstrated by the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the EU and its members need a clear neighbourhood policy which saves our Eastern neighbours from having to choose between Russia or the EU (…) Sustainable safety and security in Europe can only be achieved in cooperation with Russia and not by working against Russia. Russia too, can only ensure long-term safety and security by working with and not against Europe.

Foreign and European Policy Report (2014)[16]

  • “Clear rejection” of Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a violation of international law, “incompatible with the OSCE’s fundamental values”;
  • The EU’s Eastern neighbours should have the option to cooperate with both the EU and Russia;
  • EU sanctions against Russia were necessary but are hurting Austrian economy;
  • Serious concerns about human rights situation in Russia and Russia-controlled territories;
  • Russia is a partner in Syria peace process.

Austrian Security Strategy (2013)[17]       

Russia is mentioned alongside the US as a “strategic partner” in the field of security for Austria, the EU.
It also aims at making a collective contribution to the implementation of the EU strategy for external action, particularly in the Western Balkans and in the Eastern neighbourhood.

Constitution protection report (2015)[18]

Russia is mentioned in the context of North Caucasus conflicts, as the situation in Chechnya and Dagestan influence the security climate in Austria, which is home to a significant Chechen community. 2014 report states that “economic problems, hopelessness, the violation of human rights, organized crime, and ethnically or religiously motivated tensions contribute to the instability of this region.”
Earlier reports mentioned Russian secret services activity in Austria. The latest incident was in 2011, when a Russian secret agent couple with Austrian identity documents was arrested in Germany. Investigation “significantly substantiated the suspicion of illegal activity.”

[1] Malek, M. and Luif, P., Austria, Chapter 14 in M. David, J. Gower and H. Haukkala, ‘National Perspectives on Russia: European Foreign Policy in the Making?’, Routledge 2013.

[2] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌press/‌‌news/‌‌2016/‌‌february/‌‌article258865/‌‌

[3] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌en/‌‌austria-defies-us-eu-over-south-stream-during-putin-visit/‌‌a-17734602

[4] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌economy/‌‌919356

[5] https:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌article/‌‌russia-pushes-tesla-pipeline-through-balkans/‌‌

[6] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌articles/‌‌2016/‌‌12/‌‌omv-gazprom-sign-asset-swap-agreement.html

[7] “Production costs in Siberia are about a fifth of what OMV is spending in the North Sea” – OMV CEO Rainer Seele https:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌news/‌‌articles/‌‌2016-04-01/‌‌gazprom-omv-to-swap-upstream-assets-in-deepening-of-old-ties

[8] Malek, M. and Luif, P., Austria, in National Perspectives on Russia.

[9] Malek, M. and Luif, P., Austria, in National Perspectives on Russia.

[10] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌post/‌‌151393343766/‌‌new-book-details-russian-spying-in-austria

[11] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌news/‌‌worldnews/‌‌europe/‌‌austria/‌‌11003898/‌‌

[12] Malek, M. and Luif, P., Austria, in National Perspectives on Russia.

[13] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌debate/‌‌what_‌next_‌for_‌eu_‌russia_‌policy

[14] http:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌scorecard/‌‌2016/‌‌countries/‌‌austria

[15] https:/‌‌/‌‌‌‌fileadmin/‌‌user_‌‌upload/‌‌Zentrale/‌‌Ministerium/‌‌Schwerpunkte/‌‌HBM_‌‌long-term_‌‌priorities.pdf

[16] https:/‌‌‌/‌‌‌‌‌‌fileadmin/‌‌‌user_‌‌upload/‌‌‌Zentrale/‌‌‌Publikationen/‌‌‌AEPB/‌‌‌Foreign_‌‌and_‌‌European_‌‌Policy_‌‌Report_‌‌2014.pdf

[17] https:/‌/‌‌DocView.axd?CobId=52251

[18] http:/‌/‌‌cms/‌BMI_‌Verfassungsschutz/‌Verfassungsschutzbericht_‌2015.pdf

About the study

This 124- page study reviews shifts in strategic & policy documents of EU28 member states following Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Russian aggression against Ukraine has led to EU28 sanctions, while Kremlin aggressive policies such as militarily threatening specific EU countries, or using hostile influence tools such as disinformation, and support of European extremists & radical leaders has alienated many European countries.


Today, we can see:

o   six countries which have held concerned views of Russian foreign policy and now are at the forefront of the European response to its aggression (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, United Kingdom, Denmark)

o   five countries have significantly shifted their policies and concerns after the Russian aggression against Ukraine (Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany).

o   three countries are below-radar supporters of countering Russian aggression (Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria)

o   three states have virtually no relevant relations with Russia (Portugal, Malta, Ireland)

o   six countries are trying to stay away from the issues (Austria, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Spain, Slovenia)

o   two governments are using the Russia-card for domestic reasons (Slovakia, Hungary)

o   and three states still act Kremlin-friendly (Greece, Italy, Cyprus)

o   13 EU countries are highly concerned with the Russian disinformation threat, and are therefore participating in at least one of the three allied projects (EEAS East STRATCOM, NATO STRACOM COE, Finnish COE on Countering Hybrid Threats).

o   The game-changer in this situation will be the next German government coalition which can shift European efforts to counter and mitigate the Russian aggression in both ways – it can either appease the Kremlin and effectively kill the EU28 response (potentially, if a “red” coalition is in place), or follow-up on the principled position held by the Chancellor Angela Merkel to devise a full-government policy on every level of the Kremlin aggression (from Ukraine to disinformation threats) and become the full-time prime defender of the liberal international order.

o   The group of 14 countries clearly concerned with Russian aggression is missing a leader. The United Kingdom is on its way out, Germany still does not feel as an openly hawkish defender of the principled response, and Poland is missing out on the chance to be a genuine, legitimate and a well-respected leader of this pack because of the unconstructive behaviour of its government.

o   The position of the most reliable Kremlin friendly is now held by Italy, expressed for example by openly vetoing expansion of sanctions following Russia-sponsored atrocities in Syria. It might change after the French presidential elections, where Moscow might get a highly influential ally.


  1. The aggressiveness of the Russian Federation is based on internal factors, while the kleptocratic regime needs to feed domestic audience with perception of the external threat. For this reason, Kremlin-orchestrated hostilities will continue until it implodes. It is important to understand that this is not going to disappear overnight, nor by European politicians being nice to Vladimir Putin.
  2. Most of diplomatic efforts of the concerned countries should focus on silently assisting Germany with adopting the position of the prime defender of the liberal international order. German military is already assuming that role; now it is time for concerned allies to support Germany in assuming more assertive role against the ones who openly and systematically attack the rule-based order.
  3. Given the amount and intensity of Russia-sponsored atrocities and the almost non-existent shift in approach of Kremlin’ friendlies, it is reasonable not to expect positions of Greece, Italy and Cyprus to significantly move. There apparently is not much else Russia would have to do for them to change their long-term views.
  4. European debate should focus on how Russia uses energy to increase dependence of individual countries on Moscow’s energies and to lure influential current or former politicians to lobby on its behalf. European intelligence agencies openly warn against this tool Russia buys influence with.
  5. Given the evidence and urgent warning by many European intelligence agencies and security experts, European countries should develop their own national defence mechanisms & policies against hostile foreign influence and disinformation operations. Many countries are now facing prospects of Russian hostile interference in their elections and it is most probably not going to disappear during the upcoming years. Elections should be considered a part of the national critical infrastructure as they are a cornerstone of sovereignty.
  6. 13 EU states clearly concerned with Russian disinformation should ask EU HRVP Federica Mogherini to strengthen and reinforce the EEAS East STRATCOM Team, which still consists almost only from seconded national experts, not from EEAS-funded specialists.
  7. It would be in the great interest of countries concerned with Russia’s aggression if Polish government was able to act constructively in the allied structures and would become a respected leader in spearheading actions to deter and mitigate the threat. So far, it has been a politically wasted opportunity by Warsaw.

Moreover, 20 SPECIFIC CONCLUSIONS are available in attached a well-printable SUMMARY.