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Applying constructivism to understanding EU–Russian relations

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The improved relations between Russia and the European Union (EU) in the 1990s were followed by a rise in tension since 1999. This article argues that constructivism can provide important insights into the basis of continuing difficulties. Drawing on the nature of the two actors, the author argues that the foreign policy identities of both actors are in a formative process, and thus the construction of inter-subjective meanings has the potential to be a particularly transformative element in the relationship. Both the Russian Federation and the EU are relatively new as regional and global actors, and both are in the process of forming their foreign policy identities, although in quite different contexts. Neither the EU nor Russia has developed a strategic conception for the relationship, and political discourse often obstructs communication rather than furthering the generation of inter-subjective meanings. The article argues that a constructivist analysis can help to expose the deep interconnections between normative disagreements, conflicting constructions of interests and differing concepts of governance.

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  1. Negotiations were launched at the EU–Russia summit in Khanty–Mansiisk in June 2008.

  2. Russian analysts also point to this possibility based on a constructivist analysis (for example, Strezhneva, 2007).

  3. Tsygankov and Tsygankov (2010, pp. 675–677) also point to this potential.

  4. For example, Putin's statement at the Munich Conference on Security Policy (Putin, 2007) in 2007, when he referred to ‘a historic choice … in favour of democracy, freedom, openness, and a sincere partnership with all the members of the big European family’. See also Putin as quoted in Tsygankov (2007, p. 385).

  5. See Medvedev's (2008) comment on regions where Russia has ‘privileged interests’, in its near abroad.

  6. Jan Zielonka (2008) interprets this as a form of imperial policy on the part of the EU.

  7. See Strezhneva's (2007, p. 11) treatment of this in terms of the EU discourse about Russian and human rights, where she distinguishes the manner in which rhetorical acts serve different purposes both within the EU and in the relationship.

  8. On the importance of identity in constructivist theory see Kowert (1998), pp. 268–270.

  9. Initiated in 2001, this forum seeks to further understanding between Russia and Germany,, accessed 6 December 2011.

  10. Initiated in 2002, this forum encourages discussions between France, Germany and Poland; the EU's eastern policy is among one of many considered topics at its events,, accessed 6 December 2011.


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DeBardeleben, J. Applying constructivism to understanding EU–Russian relations. Int Polit 49, 418–433 (2012).

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