Serghei Golunov’s report on the panel “Cross-Border Networks and Cooperation I: Europe, Euroscepticism, and Russia” (Annual Conference of the Association for Borderlands Studies, San Francisco, April 12-15, 2017)

The panel took place on April 15. There were three presentations: “Russian cross-border cooperation: In search of an efficient model” by Serghei Golunov, “Alternatives to border walls” by Katarzyna Stoklosa and Gerhard Besier, and “EU, Russia and the changing neighborhood” by Joni Virkkunen. The panel was moderated by Christophe Sohn (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research).

Serghei Golunov’s presentation was devoted to analyzing development of post-Soviet Russia’s cross-border cooperation policy. The presenter didn’t find this development particularly successful, as Moscow is reluctant to give regional governments enough powers to cooperate with neighbors being afraid of regional separatism and misusing these powers for customs and tax fraud. Russia rejected any real cross-border regionalization promoted by the EU while adopting its experience of joint funding for cross-border infrastructural and other projects. Small powers of regional governments at Russia-Belarus and Russia-Kazakhstan borderlands makes these governments capable largely just to lobby their regions’ and large enterprises’ interests in Moscow and before foreign partners. The important difference between Russia-Belarus and Russia-Kazakhstan cases is that cross-border cooperation discourse is not promoted by central governments in the first case and not promoted in the second case. Some elements of the Chinese cross-border cooperation models are valued in Russia: though Moscow is reluctant to empower selected regional governments, it tries to establish special economic zones and free ports in Far Eastern regions. However, it is unclear if these zones can become efficient.

Katarzhina Stoklosa’s (University of Southern Denmark) and Gerhard Beiser’s (Sigmund Neumann Institute) presentation reported interim results of an ongoing project. The main question to be dealt with is whether a working alternative way to erecting border barrier do exist, taking into account the ongoing refugee crisis. Walls are understood both physically and metaphorically. Speaking about the metaphorical dimension, it is important that barriers for immigrants’ integration into European societies are still high, and, in particular, that immigrants and their descendants rarely reach the level of political elites.

Joni Virkkunen (University of Eastern Finland) largely focused on clashing Russian and the EU’s influences in the post-Soviet space. While the EU, slowly reacting to emergent challenges, tries to find its foreign policy identity and advocates normative approach to human rights, Russia tries to restore its influence in the post-Soviet space and strengthens its normative power more tolerable to authoritarianism and human rights abuses. The Eurasian integration project potentially can be combined with the Greater Eurasia project with Chinese participation. While Ukraine and Moldova can be considered to be contested neighborhood, Russia prevails in Central Asia. The EU’s positions are weaker and it tries not to irritate authoritarian regimes and to cooperate with respective countries in areas of common interests, such as energy, development, trade, and border management. The presenter asks whether emphasizing these priorities and turning a blind eye to human rights violations undermines the EU’s ideological principles and identity.