The European states are gradually setting new strategic goals, first and foremost preserving the independence of their foreign policy in the changing global context. The period of external expansion finished when the European Union reached most of Europe's natural borders. The calm reaction of key European powers to the internal political crisis in Belarus derives not only from the absence of infrastructure on the ground or from an understanding of Russia's determination. As quite a compact country, Belarus could theoretically find a place in Europe. But despite massive discontent with Lukashenka's rule, it is unlikely that Belarussians would be as unanimous in choosing the EU as Ukrainians seemed to be. The EU's response to the events in Belarus in August and September 2020 was determined by the lack of internal backing for further expansion, even if in the short term some EU members, like Poland, will work to radicalize protests there.
Russia, for its part, has dropped ideas of rearranging the European order to acquire a place commensurate to its power. Isolationist voices that emerged in the Russian foreign policy debate during the pandemic are growing stronger amid fears that Russia could be dragged into the growing conflict between China and the United States. Proposals to reduce political contacts with Europe fell on open ears in Russia and were echoed by the Russian foreign minister in September 2020. His statement was widely noted in the media, because Moscow traditionally stood for the continuation of political dialogue in any conflict situation. In fact, on the very day when Sergey Lavrov announced that communications with Europe might be put on hold, one of his deputies held consultations with EU representatives in Brussels.
This sequence of events gives grounds for hope that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission will maintain contacts and inform each other on the issues that require cooperation. At the same time, in the next five to seven years we should not expect even a partial restoration of the numerous working formats on specific interaction issues that were created under the 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and other joint resolutions. The same obviously also applies to the EU-Russia summits, which had exhausted their potential some years before the beginning of the Ukraine crisis.
The fragmentary contacts between Brussels and Eurasian Economic Union bodies represent a separate area, where Russian and EU interests intertwine. In the coming years this multilateral cooperation project will stagnate, but the representatives of its executive body, the Eurasian Economic Commission, are already involved in some issues concerning foreign economic activities. These forms of dialogue will be both necessary and sufficient to achieve any goals Russia and Europe may set beyond the outdated "trust and integration" paradigm.