Russia has informed the European Union of its desire to participate in the EU’s PESCO joint defense mission. The Kremlin would hope to specifically contribute to the areas of cyber defense or logistics.

Russia-EU Relations and PESCO

Although relations between the European Union and Russia have remained tense since the annexation of Crimea occurred, the Kremlin has offered Brussels to participate in the European Defense Union PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation). The Russian ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, stated his country was open to cooperation. Chizhov also assured that Russia was not considering the enhanced cooperation in the European states’ defense policy as an issue in general.

With the America First doctrine evoked, the European Union found itself forced to become more flexible and independent of the United States in December 2017 and, at the same time, become more capable of acting in a security policy environment that is becoming ever more acute. The European answer to these challenges is PESCO. There are said to be a total of 47 projects, some of which are already running, which involve building a medical team and developing prototypes for infantry vehicles.

Europe’s Defense Industry Challenges

Many duplications and fragmentations in the defense industry in Europe currently remain, which makes operating the military more expensive and ineffective for the states at the same time. PESCO thus aims to make the European armed forces more compatible in terms of organization and equipment in order for them to assume responsibility for security and defense policy jointly. Multiple structures ought to be reduced, and bureaucracy is limited to the essentials. PESCO serves as the nucleus of this vision of a smarter European Defense Union. The fact that the member states undertake to implement selected defense projects together saves costs and creates synergies, while it also strengthens NATO for future operations. Except for Denmark and Malta, all remaining European Union countries are currently members of PESCO.

The PESCO states have agreed on 20 binding commitments, including the continual development of their defense capabilities, for example, by participating in the European Defense Agency’s armaments cooperation programs. In addition, they must be able to deploy military units and equipment for up to three months of multinational operations within one month. The commitment of PESCO members is evaluated annually by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy with the support of the PESCO Secretariat (consisting of representatives of the European Defense Agency, the European External Action Service and the European Union Military Staff). The basis for this includes the national implementation plans that PESCO members submit annually to report on their progress in implementing the 20 commitments.

Is Russian Cooperation on PESCO Realistic?

Russia could participate and play its role in the PESCO projects, as Chizhov now pledged. For example, it would be conceivable to “work with the European Union on cyber defense or in the logistics area.” In addition, Russian troops and analysts could support European Union operations in third countries with their expertise. Chizhov points out that Russia had already provided helicopters for an EU mission in Chad in 2008 and was also cooperating to combat pirates in the Horn of Africa.

Russia’s offer notwithstanding, relations with the European Union and NATO have been under heavy strain since 2014. The Kremlin is accused of annexing the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in violation of international law and supporting the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. As a result, the European Union imposed economic sanctions, while NATO expanded its presence in the east of the alliance.

However, the relationship between Russia and the EU has somewhat “stabilized,” though at an “abnormally low level,” Chizhov said. The latter seems to be sufficient for a renewed partnership.

Still, the possibility that the European Union is inclined to accept the offer and include Russia in de facto European intelligence operations, seems unlikely at this stage – for apparent reasons.

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