In our article about the top 5 European countries in terms of area and inhabitants, many readers had expressed their views on whether Russia belongs to Europe. We have taken this as an opportunity to shed some light on the current situation in this regard. Russia’s relations with Europe have been very difficult for some time now. Some crisis points:
Protests in Europe against Russia’s actions in Ukraine as seen here in Vienna in 2014 (c) iStock.com / benstevens
- Russia’s dispute with Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea
- Europe’s economic sanctions against Russia
- the eastward expansion of NATO including provocations against Russia on Europe’s eastern borders
- Russia’s difficult role in its relationship with Turkey, including the Putin/Erdogan "male friendship."
- Moscow’s military intervention in Syria
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the rapprochement of the previously hostile systems, the Cold War in the 1990s already seemed to have overcome. In recent years, the relationship between Europe, resp. the entire West, and Russia again dramatically worsened. Against this background, the question of the extent to which Russia should be seen as a European country from a historical, cultural and political perspective seems more topical than ever before.
Is Russia part of Europe – geographically?
Yes, even if only partially. Although only 23 percent of Russia’s territory lies in Europe, 65 to 85 percent of Russia’s total population lives on the European continent stretching to the Urals. To this question there are highly different numbers of different sources. In any case, at least 100 million. Russians settled west of the Urals and thus to be defined as Europeans. The Asian part of Russia, on the other hand, is very sparsely populated, but thanks to its vast deposits of raw materials, it holds the livelihood of the world’s largest country. The geographical proximity to Europe is also underlined by the fact that by far the most important cities in Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg, are located in the same area. Petersburg, located in the European part of the country. By the way, Moscow with more than 12 million. Inhabitants the largest city in Europe.
Does Russia belong to Europe – historically?
Yes, although with quite a few differences. Russian history in interaction with Europe is characterized by numerous conflicts, i.e. wars. The first strong European influences date back to the time of Peter the Great, who opened the tsarist empire to European influences and established a new relationship with St. Petersburg founded a new, European-inspired capital city. Catherine the Great, already due to her Prussian origins, continued the rapprochement with European values and traditions. In contrast to this, however, there was always the Russia of the Orthodox faith, which wanted to preserve its own values of the Russian Empire and was opposed to Europeanization.
Russia has also had to defend itself against European aggressors time and again. Significant battles the Russians had to endure to protect their empire. Thus z. B. the crushing battle against Napoleon in 1812, the so-called Patriotic War. The Crimean War, attacks of the Poles. And, of course, the invasion of the Soviet Union by the German Reich, the Great Patriotic War. Russia, for all its closeness to Europe, has always seen itself as a defender – the West, on the other hand, has often seen Russia as the aggressor in recent history.
Does Russia belong to Europe – culturally?
In any case. Russian artists have made a great contribution to the cultural heritage of Europe over the centuries. For example, what would be the European literature without Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov or Nabokov? European music would also be much poorer without artists like Rubinstein, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Prokofiev. It is just as hard to imagine ballet without Tchaikovsky’s masterpieces "Swan Lake" or "Nutcracker". And a Nureyev in dancing was a legend already in his lifetime.
Thanks also to a Tchaikovsky, Russia belongs culturally to Europe (c) iStock.com / FierceAbin
Russian writers have made a great cultural contribution to Europe (c) iStock.com / Nadzeya_Dzivakova
Also not to be forgotten is the Russian influence in European painting, for example through Kandinsky or Chagall. So there are enough examples and evidence that Russia made a very important contribution to cultural Europe.
Does Russia belong to Europe – politically?
This topic probably raises the most questions and cannot be answered in the affirmative. Russia has experienced political ups and downs over the past 100 years.
The end of the tsarist empire with the October Revolution in 1917 led the country through Lenin and Trotsky to totalitarian communism under Stalin. The cruel Second World War and the subsequently emerging fronts of systems deepened the struggle against capitalism and thus the political division within Europe.
For decades the world lived in fear. The Cold War with the arms race between the blocs could turn into a hot war at any time – in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 they were on the verge of 3. World War. The fact that Gorbachev heralded the end of the Cold War with perestroika and glasnost was also due to the financial situation of the Soviet Union. Disarmament had become a necessity. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the accession of some CIS states and other former Warsaw Pact states to NATO, the great power Russia was faced with a shambles. The much described Russian soul was deeply humiliated. The weak President Yeltsin could not cope with the political upheavals: While the country and the vast majority of the already poor population slid into financial ruin, a horde of brazen oligarchs grew up on the other side, unabashedly appropriating the country’s riches for themselves.
Vladimir Putin readjusted power in Russia and scaled back the tenuous moves toward liberalization and democratization of his predecessor. In addition, he was able to stabilize Russia economically again. Under these conditions, it was easy for him to stroke the Russian soul with nationalist bluster that resulted in more and more aggression, such as the annexation of Crimea. The political split with Europe can also be seen currently in Syria, where the Kremlin has sided with the ruler Assad and actively supports him militarily. On the basis of these political differences, one can easily conclude that Russia does not currently belong to Europe in any political sense.
What do the citizens of Russia and Germany say?
A representative study commissioned by the Korber Foundation and conducted by TNS Infratest in March 2016 under the title "Russia in Europe: rapprochement or isolation?" brought interesting facts on the subject.
There is astonishing unanimity on the question in our cover story: 50 percent of Germans and 51 percent of Russians answered "no" to the question of whether Russia belongs to Europe. As justification for the thesis that Russia does not belong to Europe, 37 percent of Germans and 35 percent of Russians said "because they do not share the same values". There were differences, however, in the second most frequently cited reason: While 26 percent of Germans do not consider Russia to belong to Europe "because of its geographical location," the Russians, also with 26 percent, see the reason in the fact that there are "hardly any cultural similarities".
The assessment of the relationship between Russia and the EU is also fairly unanimous: 33 percent of Germans consider the Russians to be "neighbors"; conversely, 34 percent of Russians see "neighbors" in the EU. Only 17 percent of respondents in each case said they considered the other person an "adversary".
Unsurprisingly, both sides defend their political position: While 52 percent of Germans say the EU’s policy toward Russia is appropriate, only 24 percent of Russians see it that way. Conversely, 81 percent of Russians find their government’s policy toward the EU to be appropriate; in Germany, approval on this question is very limited at 22 percent.
What should be encouraging for the future, however, is that a broad majority in Germany (69 percent) and Russia (79 percent) believe that cooperation between the EU and Russia should be resumed and sanctions against Russia should be halted. 95 percent of Germans and 84 percent of Russians consider the importance of political rapprochement "important".
So you can see: even if people on both sides don’t necessarily feel they belong to each other, citizens in both the east and the west want to take the path of dialogue. This should be a clear message to Putin, Merkel, Steinmeier, Juncker, Hollande etc. its. Possibly we could then answer the question of whether Russia belongs to Europe with a resounding "yes" one day.