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Just another useless Security Initiative? Russia’s Percepetion of PESCO. By Maxim Kuzmin

Maxim Kuzmin is unimpressed with the media attention surrounding PESCO. He calmly points out that it is not about ­creating a European army. Rather, the main goal is improved military cooperation, the joint use of existing or future capabilities, and increased mobility within the EU. The EU’s many ­reasons for establishing PESCO have not gone unnoticed in Russia: a changed security environment due to cyber threats or migration flows, the unpredictable behavior of a NATO partner – the United States – under President Trump and the significant foreign policy and ­military weakening of the EU due to Brexit. Nevertheless, the author sees the change in Russian foreign policy since the 2008 war in Georgia, which culminated in the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine, as the principal motive.

So far, according to Kuzmin, the few statements made by Russian politicians and researchers about PESCO suggest that they interpret it as another ineffective attempt to make Europe militarily stronger. As the author says, ever since the Cold War era, Russia has seen U.S.-dominated NATO as its main rival, not Europe. This thinking now prevails again; the increasingly authoritarian and centrally governed country is pursuing military strength and power politics. Europe is not currently perceived as a military threat – with or without PESCO. However, Russian security policymakers are paying greater attention to the EU’s soft power attempts to spread democracy and liberal values – which Russia opposes with a certain vehemence.

A siege mentality has currently taken hold. Consequently the Russian government will be induced to react if PESCO also leads to a strengthening of NATO. The main fear then would be that Russia might step up its efforts to split the EU. There are plenty of avenues of attack – from commodity dependence to supporting anti-EU parties and politicians. In the author’s opinion, the EU should not underestimate this threat.

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